Entering the offseason, the Astros had a relatively small list of needs: Relief help, another starter or two, and a starting catcher. So far, the front office has partially addressed the bullpen with re-signing Joe Smith to a two-year contract worth a total of $8 million. While it remains to be seen if Houston will look externally to fill in the backend of the rotation, they now presumably have their starting catcher for 2020 in the familiar face of Martin Maldonado.
C Martin Maldonado has agreed to a two-year, $7M deal with the Astros, per a source. Maldonado had multiple offers, but took less money to return to Houston.— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) December 21, 2019
Unlike last offseason when he and his former agent reportedly turned down a two-year, $12 million offer from Houston, the free-agent catcher is now a lock to open the next decade with the Astros. But let’s be honest for a moment that Maldonado’s signing primarily comes down to the financials. After all, the Astros are actively trying to stay under the second-level tax threshold of $228 million for next season. Maldonado’s new contract will only have an average annual value of $3.5 million for the next two seasons, which is beneficial towards a team with noted budget constraints. The tax threshold also likely kept the club from earnestly pursuing Robinson Chirinos, who was last season’s primary catcher, or former backstop Jason Castro, both of whom were linked to the Astros this offseason.
That said, Maldonado does bring some continuity to a club that has had a revolving door at catcher during the past couple of seasons. The Astros also clearly value what the veteran catcher brings defensively to the table as they’ve twice now traded for the thirty-three year old at the trade deadline in the last two years. But it is clear at this point that Maldonado, who owns a career 73 wRC+ in the majors, can’t be expected to adequately replicate Chirinos’ offensive value. As noted here by mhatter’s spectrum scores for catchers, even Maldonado’s framing skills are a bit lacking, however, his blocking skills remain strong.
At this juncture, the Astros likely head into next season with Maldonado, recent signee Dustin Garneau, and Garrett Stubbs as their trio of major league catchers. With the active roster to expand to twenty-six players, there will be room to carry a third catcher if a club so desires. As noted here by Chandler Rome of the Houston Chronicle, the Astros plan on using that 26th roster spot for a third catcher at times with Stubbs. Maldonado and Garneau are likely the primary catching duo for most games while Stubbs will occasionally occupy a roster spot in case of emergencies.