Following his clutch sacrifice bunt in the ninth inning Tuesday night, Gary Matthews Jr. is batting .173/.246/.212 with 43 outs in 52 official at-bats. The Mets have given him 58 total plate appearances and he has deftly parlayed those into a .213 wOBA, which is about what you'd expect for someone with the aforementioned slash line. For what it's worth, his defense has been about average in a limited number of opportunities. Unfortunately, his offensive production -- again, in a limited sample -- has been so woeful that Omar Minaya has to be running out of excuses to keep him around.
You'll recall, GMJ was acquired in a low-risk deal with the Angels that sent Brian Stokes to Los Angeles and brought back Sarge Jr. and $21.5 million, enough to cover all but $2 million of the remaining two years on Matthews's massive contract. That's all fine, because Stokes, despite his cult hero status in the community here, is a mediocre relief pitcher, and Matthews had that one good season and wouldn't cost the Mets much money besides.
I thought it was a defensible trade at the time, but the key to a low-risk deal is in recognizing when it hasn't worked out and remembering later on that it was a low-risk deal. Omar Minaya must have known at the time that Matthews was probably a terrible player, and despite that knowledge acquired him anyway and kept his fingers crossed that maybe GMJ would have a few good months and make the Mets winners in the deal. That hasn't happened and there's virtually no chance that it ever will, so any reasonable general manager would cut his losses and try something else. At this point it isn't about winning the deal -- Stokes was bad for 16 innings and is now on the disabled list -- it's about accepting that Matthews has been a really bad player for the past three seasons and, by all empirical measures, is still really bad.
Classifying a trade or signing as "low risk" is really contingent on being able and willing to identify a sunk cost when you've got one. The Mets aren't going to get the $2 million back, but they can certainly start getting a bit more production at the margins of their roster. They were actually very quick to dump Mike Jacobs when it became obvious that he was indeed Mike Jacobs, and while Frank Catalanotto stuck around longer than he should have, Smithtown's finest has also been shown the door. Those guys were making the league minimum, and while it's easy for me to throw away another $1 million plus in fake money, it's still a million bucks we're talking about and the Mets are perhaps understandably reluctant to just dump Matthews's dried-up husk off the Whitestone Bridge.
The problem is that the Mets are quickly fading into irrelevance and they don't have time to waste watching Matthews effortlessly turn at-bats into outs. The season is going down the drain quickly and the Mets need to make improvements where they can, and one place is to upgrade Matthews's roster spot. Even nominal improvements in a few places can add up to a couple of wins here and there. Jason Pridie's defense would have been a nice addition as a fourth outfielder, but he just injured his hamstring so he's out. It doesn't even matter who it is. Literally anyone would be an upgrade at this point. Mike Hessman maybe can't play the outfield, but who cares? The guy is mashing at Triple-A and he could only possibly help.
None of us is so delusional as to believe that a moderate upgrade of the 25th roster spot will make a serious dent in the Mets' NL East deficit, but the point is to field the best team you can and to at least give the fans something worth watching most days. Keeping Gary Matthews Jr. on the team accomplishes neither.
Update: Unbeknownst to me, Extinto wrote on this same topic in a FanPost a few days ago. Go check that out for more GMJ goodness.