Joe Mather’s stay in St. Louis is over. The 27-year-old utility man was claimed off waivers by the Atlanta Braves today. Mather was one of the many disappointments on this year’s St. Louis club, batting .217 and driving in just three runs in 64 plate appearances.
Mather was highly valued by the Cards going into the season as a versatile bench option and power bat. Tony La Russa had big plans for him along with Allen Craig and Nick Stavinoha coming out of Spring Training. They each showed promise as reliable — even dangerous bats off the bench. And then they all fell flat along with the rest of the club. Mather may have been the most puzzling failure of the group.
The Cardinals loved that he could play the corner infield positions and the outfield. And perhaps even more, the organization liked the pop in his bat. That pop was first displayed when he made his major league debut in 2008. In 54 games in the bigs, he batted .241 with eight home runs and 18 RBIs. At 25, there was plenty of room for him to grow and develop that natural power. The 2009 season proved to be a setback rather than a developing year. He was a candidate for the third base job in the majors, but he struggled in Spring Training and found himself in Triple-A Memphis to start the year. Mather was bothered by a wrist injury all season and never made a cameo in St. Louis.
Still, the club was optimistic the 2008 version of Mather could make a difference in 2010. He performed well in the spring, but never found a comfort zone. The power that made him so intriguing disappeared. Mather didn’t hit a single home run in the majors and played most of the year in Triple-A.
In Memphis, he batted .275 with 10 home runs in 91 games.
Now, he’ll get a fresh start with an Atlanta team that is also starting a new page in the organization’s history. Bobby Cox retired after the Braves first-round exit from the playoffs. The legendary manager will be replaced by Fredi Gonzalez who did a nice job with what he had in Florida.
The move isn’t particularly shocking, but new story lines emerging could give Cards fans a few more headaches to go with the memory of the summer. Derrick Goold tweeted that the Braves tried to acquire Mather via trade in the past. Atlanta allegedly offered current Tampa Bay Rays closer Rafael Soriano at one point. Though the Cards bullpen was actually a strength this year, Soriano would have been nice to have to close out games. The right-hander compiled 45 saves with a 1.73 ERA for the AL East champs.
The proposed deal likely came in 2008 after Mather’s stint in St. Louis. Soriano didn’t emerge as a closer until 2009 when he nailed down 27 games with a 2.97 ERA for Atlanta. Before that, he was a decent middle reliever. Still, it gives some insight into the faith the Cards had in Mather’s potential. St. Louis was willing to hold on to a possible 20-homer guy over landing a reliever who had the stuff to become a late-inning dynamo. Not a bad move considering relievers aren’t as valuable as an everyday player.
Now, the Cardinals will begin their search for the right pieces for this year’s supporting cast. It could be the difference between a quick turnaround to compete for the division or another year watching the Reds take the title.