With the addition of Andrew Susac yesterday, the Brewers now have three catchers on the active roster. Roles won’t change much for the rest of the season. Martin Maldonado and Manny Pina will split time there, with Susac getting a few starts as well. However, what about going forward beyond 2016? Keeping three catchers on the active roster is not a luxury the Brewers will have, but that’s the potential scenario that the Brewers are facing next year. With Susac likely to get more playing time in the future, and Pina also deserving an extended look in the majors, that leaves Maldonado on the outside looking in. Roster space is about to become scarce as the Brewers have to add several prospects for Rule 5 protection. All of this means that Maldonado might not have a roster spot much longer.
Maldonado has been with in the majors for the Brewers for parts of six seasons now, and he will finish this year with just under five years of service time. The Brewers will have two more years of control with him, but there’s not much more that the Brewers need to see with him. Over his six years in the organization, Maldonado’s role has become clear: He’s a backup catcher. He’s not the catcher to build a franchise around. While he’s been great in his time as a backup, and he’s helped close the gap left by Jonathan Lucroy’s trade, he’s not the catcher of the future. So far, he’s a career .215/.295/.338 hiter with a wRC+ of 69 and a career fWAR of 2.1. He does provide more value on the defensive side behind the plate, throwing out 33% of base stealers, and he’s been worth 2 DRS this season and 19 DRS in his career. However, that’s basically what a backup catcher is. He does enough on the primary catcher’s off days that the team can win with the backup in the lineup.
Meanwhile, Andrew Susac and Manny Pina are both sitting on the sidelines and waiting for their chances. Both are acquisitions of David Stearns, so he’s not going to give up on them very easily. Both have put in a few years at Triple-A, and both will be out of options entering 2017. Neither would likely clear waivers, and both have 5+ years of service time remaining. The difference between Maldonado and either of these catchers is minor at this point. It makes more sense to go forward with both of them instead of committing more time to Maldonado and risk losing one of them.
What does that mean for Maldonado? He’s likely still got a future ahead of him in the majors, just with another team. Two years of a cheap arbitration player should hold some value to another team. The Brewers could attempt to trade Maldonado during the offseason and capitalize on that. He likely wouldn’t bring back much, but whatever he brought back would be another piece that could develop into something bigger.
The more likely scenario is Maldonado will be a non-tender candidate this offseason. The salary will not be restrictive at all (he’s due for a raise, but it shouldn’t be much). However, with roster space important this offseason, any space the Brewers can clear will be worthwhile. Several players have to be added for Rule 5 protection, and there are some big names that have to be added (Lewis Brinson, Josh Hader, Brett Phillips, Tyrone Taylor, Wei-Chung Wang, and more). Since the Brewers will have two other capable catchers on the 40-man roster, as well as replacements available in the minors, committing that roster space to him is not the wisest move.
There’s no doubt that Martin Maldonado has been a valuable part of the Brewers roster for several years. He’s helped them work through some rough years and provide value as a backup. However, he’s not the catcher of the future, and he’s a luxury the team can’t afford right now. Even though he still has some value to the Brewers, it’s looking unlikely that he will be on this roster in 2017.
(CORRECTION: As pointed out in the comments, Susac will likely have one option in 2017 since he didn’t use an option in 2014.)
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs