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Lesser Brewers: Martin Maldonado

This backup went from defense-first to defense-only in 2013.

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn't that long ago that Martin Maldonado looked like he might be a breakout star.

He was called up to the big leagues after Jonathan Lucroy's 2012 hand injury, inserted into the lineup and nearly immediately started hitting, posting a .288/.345/.451 batting line in his first 61 games. This was an unexpected twist, as Maldonado was a career .236/.313/.333 hitter over nine minor league seasons.

Unfortunately, Maldonado's performance since then would imply that the minor league numbers were closer to his true offensive talent level. He hit .184/.231/.245 in his final 17 games in 2012 and .169/.236/.284 in 67 games for the Brewers in 2013, finishing the season with two extra base hits in his final 71 plate appearances.

So now, looking at Maldonado, we have two questions:

  • First, is there reason to believe he'll improve offensively? At this point, his hot streak in 2012 looks like an outlier compared to the rest of his career. He also faces the additional challenge of trying to get into a rhythm with infrequent playing time.
  • Second, if he's not going to improve, is his defense enough to justify keeping him around? Maldonado is above-average defensively behind the plate, but if he's going to continue to bat in the mid-.100s then he's negating a lot of that value.
The Brewers have some history of keeping around light-hitting backup catchers who work well with a single veteran pitcher (see Ben Sheets and Chad Moeller). If something happened to Jonathan Lucroy, though, it'd be hard for this team to weather having to put Maldonado's bat in the lineup regularly.

Best Game

Here's a quick glimpse into the life of a backup catcher: On June 9, Martin Maldonado appeared in a game after sitting the last three out. He went 1-for-2 with a walk, homered and scored twice. Then he had to wait three games to play again before facing the Phillies on June 14.

Maldonado was 0-for-2 in the sixth inning of this game when he came up with the bases loaded and was hit by a pitch, driving home the game-tying run. Later, the Brewers trailed 3-2 in the ninth when Maldonado came up with the bases empty and two outs and made this happen:

The Brewers went on to lose the game 4-3 in ten innings anyway, but that's hardly Maldonado's fault.

Contract Status

Maldonado has a year and 156 days of MLB service time, falling just shy of the cutoff for two years. If he spends all season in the majors next year he'll likely qualify for arbitration as a Super 2 player for 2015, and if that happens he'd get four arbitration years before becoming a free agent following the 2018 season.

I believe but have not confirmed that Maldonado also has at least one minor league option remaining.

UPDATE: @Mass_Haas confirms what I suspected:

Previous MVBrewers posts can be seen at the links below:

#1: Carlos Gomez
#2: Jonathan Lucroy
#3: Jean Segura
#4: Kyle Lohse
#5: Norichika Aoki
#6: Jim Henderson
#7: Brandon Kintzler
#8: Yovani Gallardo
#9: Wily Peralta
#10: Scooter Gennett

Honorable mentions: Marco Estrada, Ryan Braun, Khris Davis, Tyler Thornburg,Aramis Ramirez, Tom Gorzelanny, Jeff Bianchi, Caleb Gindl, Logan Schafer, Rob Wooten

Lesser Brewers: Burke Badenhop, Francisco Rodriguez, Jimmy Nelson, Donovan Hand, Sean Halton