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Astros: Maldonado signing means Chirinos likely gone

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 26: Robinson Chirinos #28 of the Houston Astros is tagged out at home plate by Yan Gomes (not pictured) of the Washington Nationals during the ninth inning in Game Four of the 2019 World Series at Nationals Park on October 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 26: Robinson Chirinos #28 of the Houston Astros is tagged out at home plate by Yan Gomes (not pictured) of the Washington Nationals during the ninth inning in Game Four of the 2019 World Series at Nationals Park on October 26, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images) /
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The Astros chances of bringing back Robinson Chirinos may be slim after the Martin Maldonado signing.

When the offseason started, one of the biggest areas of need for the Astros was at catcher. Both parts of their catching tandem, Robinson Chirinos and Martin Maldonado, were free agents. Now that Maldonado is back in the fold, though, it looks like a reunion with Chirinos probably won’t happen.

For one, the Astros already signed Dustin Garneau as their likely backup at the position. Garrett Stubbs is still on hand as additional depth, so once Garneau was on board, the chances of bringing back both Maldonado and Chirinos essentially disappeared.

Part of the reason is money. The Astros were already projected to be over the $208 million luxury tax threshold without adding any players, and they’re likely trying to stay under the second threshold of $228 million, after which they would be subject to an additional 12 percent penalty.

Getting Maldonado back at an average salary of $3.5 million per year helps in that regard, as they would have had to pay Chirinos more than that. They paid $5.75 million for Chirinos in 2019 and he put up 3.8 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference. He would’ve stood to make at least the same amount in 2020, if not more.

Maldonado the Best Choice

I’m a fan of Chirinos and think he did an excellent job for the Astros, but going with Maldonado was the right move. Aside from being less expensive, he’s also the superior defensive catcher, with a career 36 percent caught stealing rate as opposed to Chirinos’ 24 percent.

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Catcher is one of the most important defensive positions in the game, and one of the most demanding. Having a premium defender back there has benefits that go beyond what can be measured. Manager A.J. Hinch “saw secondary leads shorten and aggressive teams alter their approach when Maldonado caught.”

You do lose a bit offensively from Chirinos, who has a career 102 OPS+ compared to Maldonado’s career mark of 73. But that’s a trade off that’s worth making, especially when you consider the depth of the Astros lineup.

On any given day, they can trot out a lineup of George Springer, Michael Brantley, Jose Altuve, Alex Bregman, Yordan Alvarez, Yuli Gurriel, Carlos Correa and Kyle Tucker. Those eight hitters are superior to any other team’s best eight hitters, so the benefits of having Maldonado behind the plate will outweigh anything they might lose offensively from that one spot.

Let’s not forget that Maldonado is more than two years younger than Chirinos, too. It’s entirely possible Chirinos is waiting for a two-year deal, but the Astros would clearly rather give two years to a 33-year-old as opposed to a 35-year-old.

Justin Verlander will surely miss Chirinos, who caught every single one of his regular season innings in his Cy Young campaign this past year. But he will be fine working with Maldonado, as will the rest of the Astros pitchers. There’s a reason the club traded for him in two consecutive years.

Related Story. Astros, Maldonado agree to two-year deal. light

Now they won’t have to trade for him again and will enjoy having his arm behind the dish most days. As good as Chirinos was in 2019, this was the right move and the Astros will benefit from it.

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