Posted on December 21, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
After trading for him the past two seasons, the Houston Astros have finally found a way to keep catcher Martin Maldonado. On Friday, the Astros and Maldonado agreed to a two-year deal worth $7 million. After being a defense-oriented backup for most of his career, Maldonado is now in line to be Houston’s primary catcher in 2020. He reportedly had more lucrative offers on the table but preferred to stay in Houston, where he has the chance to play regularly.
As mentioned, Maldonado has finished the last two seasons with the Astros. He spent the early part of his career with the Brewers before ending up with the Angels in 2017. Midway through the 2018 season, the Angels traded Maldonado to Houston. Last offseason, Maldonado signed with the Royals. In mid-July, he was traded to the Cubs, who turned around two weeks later and traded him to the Astros. Maldonado split time with Robinson Chirinos down the stretch and in the postseason. Even when he didn’t start games in the postseason, Maldonado often entered as a late-game defensive replacement.
With one of the most potent lineups in baseball, the Astros aren’t too worried about what they’ll get from Maldonado offensively. The 33-year-old is one of the top defensive catchers in baseball but has never produced much offensively. He owns just a career .219 average with an OPS of .644. His numbers the past few seasons have been more or less in line with those stats. However, Maldonado has seen a slight uptick in his power, hitting 14 home runs in 2017, nine more in 2018, and 12 this past season.
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Despite a lack of offense from Maldonado, he will be Houston’s primary catcher next season. The Astros already signed Dustin Garneau earlier this winter to serve as their backup. Youngster Garrett Stubbs is also in the mix after making his big league debut last year. But he will likely serve as depth in the minors in case of injury. Outside of Stubbs, the Astros don’t have many young catching prospects. That leaves little doubt that Maldonado will be the top catcher in Houston for the next two seasons.
Other than shoring up things behind the plate, the Astros haven’t been particularly active this offseason. After coming up one game short of a second World Series title in two years, the Astros don’t have many glaring weaknesses or pressing needs. They also don’t have much payroll flexibility. Of course, the Astros have lost Gerrit Cole and Wade Miley, so they could be looking for a back-end starter to join their rotation. Houston could also look to boost their bench and overall depth, especially with teams getting an extra roster spot in 2020.
Given their financial restrictions, re-signing Maldonado is a strong move by the Astros. He clearly prefers to be in Houston while the Astros know that Maldonado is familiar with their pitching staff. The Astros are a team that can get by without much offense from the catcher position. For them, signing a strong defensive catcher might be the best way to once again compete for a championship in 2020.