The Brewers have eight players up for arbitration this winter as they continue their rebuild. We'll take a look at each one, make the case for tendering that player a contract and the case for cutting ties, and try to figure out what the Brewers should do before the non-tender deadline.
Rebuilding creates opportunity for guys who have spent most of their careers on the bench. That's the case for today's subject, who became a full-time player for the first time in his big league career in August.
C Martin Maldonado
2016 Salary: $1.1 million
Estimated Arbitration Cost (via MLB Trade Rumors): $1.6 million
The Case for Tendering
As Bill Schroeder tells us every time the backup catcher gets a start, life as a backup catcher isn't easy. You might only get a handful of at-bats every week, and it's hard to get much of a feel at the plate when your playing time is that sporadic. Maldonado's offensive numbers have never caught the eye, but his defensive ability has been enough to push him above replacement level in four of his five seasons.
The starting job finally belonged to Maldonado after Jonathan Lucroy was (successfully) traded. In 39 starts in August and September, he hit .202/.333/.347 with four home runs and six doubles. It's tough to gleam many positives out of a .680 OPS, but he was walking more than he ever has in his career while also cutting down his strikeouts. He also wasn't as dependent on his pull power as he's been in years past, increasing his balls hit to center by almost 2% and balls hit to right by 3%.
He's never going to be Buster Posey with the bat, but there are signs that he was more comfortable as a hitter with the increased playing time and a full season as a starter could see him become a more positive offensive asset.
Defensively, I don't need to throw out a bunch of numbers to convince most of you he's good. His arm is still ridiculous, and he caught 40% of attempted basestealers last year. The old "if he hit more, he'd be a Gold Glove candidate" joke applies here.
The Case for Non-Tendering
As good as his defense is, and despite the improvement he showed as a full-time player, he's still largely an offensive liability. When the lineup card ends Orlando Arcia-Maldonado-Pitcher, it can feel like the Brewers are punting a half-inning. Arcia will continue to develop, but it's not unreasonable to expect more offensive production out of the catcher position (especially after getting so used to what Lucroy once provided from that spot).
Maldonado will also turn 30 this year, so the temptation to look elsewhere may start to creep in. If the team wants a long look at Andrew Susac, now would be the time, but it would also once again come at the expense of Maldonado's playing time. Maldonado won't command a huge salary in a hypothetical arbitration hearing, but maybe the team would prefer to save a million or so and reallocate it elsewhere.
What Should Happen?
Maldonado signed a two-year deal in January 2015 to avoid arbitration, and it wouldn't surprising to see something similar happen this time around, too. Unless the team thinks Susac is its catcher of the near-future, it doesn't hurt to keep Maldonado around for the price he'll demand, considering the defensive prowess he provides. Some sort of three days on, two days off deal with Susac and Maldonado also might make some sense but would also run the risk of not getting either catcher going offensively.
It's hard to find average catching these days -- part of the reason the Brewers wanted so much in return for Lucroy -- and Maldy brings a cannon of an arm behind the plate and the ability to run into 10 or 12 home runs in a full season. By the time his reserve control is up and he's eligible for free agency in another two years, Jacob Nottingham should (hopefully) be ready.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference