In looking for cheaper depth, the Chicago Cubs could still use a veteran catcher behind Willson Contreras. Martin Maldonado might be the best option available.
The value of the backup catchers has been stated many, many times and does not need further explaining. We have seen how they contribute to the team both on the field and in the clubhouse. Right now the Chicago Cubs catcher-tandem for 2019 is Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini.
Caratini, while showing some improvement toward the end of last year, overall was underwhelming. It is possible he may never reach his potential with the Cubs being a prospect trying to develop as a backup in the majors, having already succeeded in Triple-A. There are just too many question marks right now. If Contreras does not want to get worn out like last year, a veteran catcher right now seems necessary.
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A very intriguing free agent veteran is Martin Maldonado. The 32-year-old veteran is among a few other notable free agent catchers, but he could be the best fit. His defense and durability make him attractive and he has plenty of experience. Also considering other free agents with notable resumes like Matt Wieters and Devin Mesoraco have battled injuries the past few years and may be riskier, even if they can be had on the cheap.
Like many backup backstops, the defense and catching is where his value is. Maldonado is a career .220/.289/.350 hitter with 51 homers in 612 games going back to 2011. Last year between the Angels and Astros he hit .225/.276/.351 with nine homers, 44 RBI and a 0.9 fWAR. His career-high in homers is 14 which came with the Angels in 2017.
With all that being said, Maldonado has a career 68 DRS (defensive runs saved) and 16 rSB (stolen bases runs saved) in 4,457 innings caught. He also boasts a career 38 percent caught stealing percentage, which is second-highest on the active list among catchers behind Yadier Molina. Maldonado won a Gold Glove for his efforts in 2017.
From 2012-2016 Maldonado averaged 70 games per season as much of it was backing up Jonathan Lucroy in Milwaukee. The last two seasons he played in over 100 games, (career-high 138 in 2017) so he has shown the ability to be able to take on a heavy load of work behind the plate. Also as an added bonus, he can play first base as he has 98 2/3 career innings there. Probably not necessary outside a few games but he is an option to put there.
What will it cost?
Maldonado will probably be a guy who signs a one-year deal, no more than five or six million. Seems cheap and affordable, that is if the supposed money issues for the Cubs are not as dire as suggested by some. At the end of the day it would be really hard to believe that this team could not afford a guy like this.
Even if Caratini does stick around (he could be a very intriguing trade-chip) a three-catcher tandem on the North Side may be the way to go. If they do not want to see Contreras get worn out like last year, he needs reliable help.