Feb. 20: Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times takes a broader look, reporting that the Mariners are in the market for a right-handed-hitting catcher to pair with the left-handed-hitting Narvaez. The organization’s preference, per Divish, is to add a catcher on a minor league contract or a split MLB deal. Maldonado, however, is still seeking a fully guaranteed big league deal. The fact that he’s having a difficult time coming by one, given his defensive prowess, frankly comes as a surprise; Maldonado’s bat last season was light, but then again, so was that of the league-average catcher (84 wRC+). At the very least, one would think that Maldonado is a clear upgrade over a significant portion of backup catchers throughout the league.
At this point, the free-agent market offers little in the way of alternatives outside of switch-hitting Matt Wieters (who, like Maldonado, is represented by Scott Boras). That said, there will quite likely be numerous catching options that hit the market over the course of Spring Training, both in the form of players being exposed to waivers and other veterans opting out of minor league contracts.
It’s been a quiet offseason for Maldonado, one of the game’s most highly regarded defenders behind the plate. While Maldonado doesn’t offer much help with the bat, he’s a former Gold Glove winner with a career 38 percent caught-stealing rate whose framing rates have never once rated as below-average at the Major League level, per Baseball Prospectus. Dating back to 2012, the only catchers in all of baseball with more Defensive Runs Saved than Maldonado’s 68 are Buster Posey (92) and Yadier Molina (83), though both have caught at least 2000 innings more than Maldonado.
Strong as his glovework might be, Maldonado is a career .220/.289/.350 hitter who has managed a lowly .223/.276/.360 (73 OPS+) line in 875 plate appearances across the past two seasons. Maldonado does have a bit of pop, as evidenced by the .137 ISO and 23 home runs he’s logged dating back to Opening Day 2017.
For the Mariners, Maldonado would provide a nice defensive-minded option to pair with offseason trade acquisition Omar Narvaez, who remains a shaky defender despite the fact that his bat took a step forward in 2018. Currently, journeyman David Freitas projects to be the primary backup to Narvaez, as he’s the only other catcher on the Mariners’ 40-man roster. Veteran Jose Lobaton is in camp with the Mariners on a minor league pact as well.
There’s been little in the way of reported interest in Maldonado since December, when the Mets and White Sox were both linked to him. New York, however, has has since added Wilson Ramos on a two-year contract, while the ChiSox picked up James McCann to pair with veteran Welington Castillo.