We’ve already reviewed the Brewers free agents, their players with option years, and now we’re working on the players eligible for salary arbitration. We’ve already reviewed the recently traded Marco Estrada and Gerardo Parra, now it is back-up catcher Martin Maldonado’s turn.
2014 Salary: $502,000
2015 Salary: Arb eligible ~ $750,000 (estimated)
With Jonathan Lucroy turning into one of the best catchers in baseball and insisting that he play just about every day, Maldonado played fewer games in 2014 than in any previous professional season (not including his first partial year in rookie ball in 2006).
Maldonado saw the field in just 52 games in 2014, and only got 126 plate appearances for the Brewers. In terms of time on the field, that puts Maldonado behind all of the regular starters/platoons, plus Elian Herrera, Logan Schafer and Gerardo Parra.
What is troubling about that is that Maldonado is a better hitter than Schafer, Herrera, Overbay and Reynolds, and probably would have been a better option as a pinch hitter or first baseman than any of those names.
Maldonado slashed .234/.320/.387 this year for the Crew. Good for a wRC+ of 97 and an OPS+ of 96. That means that he was roughly a league-average hitter. He was a league average hitter at a time when Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay were on the field giving production well below average, and even Herrera and Schafer got pinch hit opportunities over the back stop.
Such is the life of a backup catcher. Teams don’t want to use their backup catcher as a pinch hitter incase the starting catcher gets hurt, and that is a valid concern. It is also somewhat ridiculous given the poor production of Reynolds and Overbay that Lucroy or Maldonado weren’t getting more time at first base.
Maldonado was seventh on the team in on-base percentage, behind Lucroy, Rickie Weeks, Carlos Gomez, Aramis Ramirez, Overbay and Ryan Braun.
Maldonado is also a plus defensive catcher, which is what most teams are looking for from their backup. Given that he’s a league average hitter, and a plus defensive catcher, he is probably one of the very best backup catchers in baseball.
Maldonado put up roughly the same production in 2012, which was considered a breakout season for the young catcher, but he sandwiched his 2012 and 2013 around an awful 2013 campaign.
If the Brewers get the good Maldonado in 2015, he should get more at bats at first base against left handed pitching, a situation where new first baseman Adam Lind struggles. Or Lucroy could get some of those at bats, and the Brewers can put Maldy behind the plate.