As the dust settled on the Yankees’ record-setting Gerrit Cole contract, people started to wonder what was up with Cole’s personal catcher Martin Maldonado, including Maldonado himself.
— Machete Maldonado (@Machete1224) December 11, 2019
Mark Feinsand later reported that the Yankees have interest in Maldonado with their current opening at backup catcher.
The Yankees have interest in C Martin Maldonado, per source. Interesting stats to consider: Maldonado caught Gerrit Cole 10 times in 2019 – and Cole had a 1.57 ERA and .471 opponent OPS in those starts, his lowest numbers with any of Houston's catchers last season.
— Mark Feinsand (@Feinsand) December 11, 2019
If you know me then you know I’m not a fan of personal catchers. I think it creates more problems then it solves, especially when your starting catcher is Gary Sanchez. But there’s no denying Cole’s dominance with Maldonado last season.
- Throwing to Robinson Chirinos: 102.1 innings, 2.46 ERA, 6.1 K/BB
- Throwing to Martin Maldonado: 68.2 innings, 1.57 ERA, 10.4 K/BB
- Throwing to Max Stassi: 29.1 innings, 4.30 ERA, 6.9 K/BB
- Throwing to Garrett Stubbs: 12 innings, 2.25 ERA, 2.4 K/BB
Maldonado started catching Cole in the second half of the season and they never looked back. As good as Cole was with Chirinos, he became super-human with Maldonado. That ERA and K/BB ratio are video game numbers. Cole spoke about the great pre-game prep and in-game communication he and Maldonado have. Clearly, he felt most comfortable throwing to him and the results were evident. But the Astros probably had no problem allowing Cole to have a personal catcher because their starting catcher – Chirinos – is basically a league average offensive player (105 OPS+). When the difference between your starting and backup catcher is not a ton, it’s easier to allow.
Does Maldonado fit on the Yankees?
The Yankees currently have an opening on the roster for a backup catcher. Austin Romine is a free agent and there has not been much talk about bringing him back. Kyle Higashioka is on the 40-man roster but there are fair questions to whether he can handle the backup duties.
Maldonado is a 9-year MLB vet who has played on five teams, three in 2019 alone. He has a career 73 OPS+, which is, well, putrid. But his value is behind the plate, and is seemingly most valuable to the team that also employs Gerrit Cole.
Fangraphs projects Maldonado to sign a 2-year, $9M contract. To me that seems steep to a team still eyeing the top luxury tax threshold. Romine is projected at 1-year, $2.5M. In 2019, Romine out-WAR’d Maldonado 0.9 to 0.8, but again, Maldonado’s relationship with Cole might make him more valuable to the Yankees than Romine.
Unlike in Houston, the Yankees have a clear-cut starting catcher they want playing every day (with the exception of standard rest days). On paper having a starting catcher play 4 out of 5 games, with his one off day being when Cole pitches, make sense. But many obstacles come up during the season and things won’t always line up. There’s also big games and playoffs to worry about, and something tells me the Yankees want Sanchez’ bat and not Maldonado’s (or Romine’s or Higgy’s) in an ALCS game.
We’ve seen personal catcher situations on the Yankees before. Randy Johnson didn’t like throwing to Posada so his personal catcher was John Flaherty. AJ Burnett preferred Jose Molina over Posada, and the Yankees even used that system in the playoffs. We’ve talked at nauseam in recent years about Romine being a personal catcher for Tanaka and Sonny Gray, and while the Yankees never really deployed a set system with those guys, it was a topic of conversation.
Cole is an ace and he’s going to lead the Yankees staff for the next 9-years. I just hope he can do that with or without Maldonado.