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The Importance Of Martin Maldonado

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We look back at the situation surrounding the Houston Astros catcher, Martin Maldonado, this past year and the impact he had on the team.Photo byWikimedia Commons

By Ray Kuhn

For the second straight season, Martin Maldonado could not even break the Mendoza line. Under normal circumstances, that would be embarrassing, and at best, mean a ticket to the bench. Instead, it was good enough to be the starting catcher in the World Series for the second straight year. 

In fact, it was the third time in four years that Maldonado spent his October playing in the World Series, and in 2022 it ended with a championship. While there were far more potent bats offensively for the Houston Astros this year, Maldonado was just as important, if not more. A strong lineup can hide a weaker hitter, but it is not like the Astros did not have the opportunity to upgrade at the plate from Maldonado. 

Instead, the complete opposite was true. What was clear and obvious to all leading up to the trade deadline this year was that the Astros had a void behind the plate and needed another catcher. Equally as evident to all observers is how much of a liability Maldonado seemingly was. 

It was only natural at that point for James Click, the Astros general manager at the time, to seek an upgrade. For a team with World Series aspirations, it would only make sense to target the best catcher, and right-handed bat, on the market in Wilson Contreras. 

The impending free agent had a proven track record of success at the plate, so then why would Dusty Baker, and ultimately owner Jim Crane, circumvent their general manager to veto the trade? 

Since when would a manager not want the most available talent at their disposal?

Contreras was coming at the price of Jose Urquidy, who, while he is more than a serviceable starting pitcher, ultimately was not a part of Houston’s rotation in the postseason. Urquidy did serve as an innings eater in Game Three of the World Series, but there were not any value postseason contributions from the right-hander. While certainly valuable to the future of the Astros, Urquidy still has three more years of team control and is not good enough to stand in the way of a bat like Contreras if you think he can be a difference-maker. Especially when the goal is to win the World Series. 

At the end of the day, not only did it not matter, but the Astros won the World Series in large part due to the contributions of their beloved catcher. 

Houston ended up trading for Christian Vasquez, one of the better starting catchers in the league who also had a championship on his resume, but he still spent the majority of his time with the Astros on the bench. 

Maldonado hit .186 on the season in 113 games (379 plate appearances) but he did show some power with 15 home runs and 45 RBI while setting career marks in both categories. We all know though, that was the least of his contributions though as the catcher is truly a leader and beloved member of the Astros. 

It is no secret that Houston has one of the better pitching staffs in the league and that was evident throughout both the regular season and the playoffs. While there is plenty of talent to go around, a large part of that credit, and deservedly so, belongs to Maldonado. 

He is simply revered by the Astros’ pitching staff, and it is pretty clear to just about all observers. This was not a secret to Baker as the old-school manager is very aware of the value that a strong defensive catcher that knows how to handle a pitching staff can bring to a team. It is for that reason that Baker was vehemently against any trade for Contreras as he knew that Maldonado would still be his starting catcher on most nights. 

Learning a new pitching staff is never easy, and if you are going to do it the right way, it only gets more difficult and demanding. While Contreras was being acquired for his bat, the other responsibilities of a catcher cannot be underestimated and it was not going to serve anyone well for him to be the Designated Hitter to close out the season. 

With the benefit of hindsight and a World Series trophy, it clearly was the right move. Not only did the catcher lead his team to victory with his work behind the plate, but he started the Game Six rally by crowding the plate and leading off the inning with a hit by pitch. 

What truly makes everything more remarkable is that Maldonado did it while dealing with both a broken hand and a sports hernia. It is clear that his offense suffers both from the health hazards of squatting behind the plate and also from the time he spends in service to his pitching staff. 

Those are contributions that are quite valuable and while generally overlooked, can never get enough attention. 

Ray Kuhn can be found writing on Fantasy Alarm and podcasting at Friends With Fantasy Benefits after previously covering the Houston Astros as part of the FanSided network at Climbing Tal’s Hill. Reach him at @ray_kuhn_28 or raykuhn57@gmail.com as he is always interested in talking or writing about our great game.

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