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Astros: Martin Maldonado proving to be incredible bargain

HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 24: Martin Maldonado #15 of the Houston Astros singles in the second inning second inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Minute Maid Park on August 24, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 24: Martin Maldonado #15 of the Houston Astros singles in the second inning second inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Minute Maid Park on August 24, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images) /
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Houston Astros catcher Martin Maldonado is an incredible bargain so far in 2020.

It’s hard to find a really good bargain in free agency these days with baseball players’ salaries going through the roof. Yet based on his play so far in 2020, the Houston Astros have found an incredible deal in catcher Martin Maldonado.

The backstop is no stranger to this club, of course, having played for the team down the stretch in both 2018 and 2019. Before his unceremonious departure, former GM Jeff Luhnow locked up the defensively gifted catcher who he twice traded for, signing Maldonado to a two-year deal worth $7 million.

When Robinson Chirinos returned to the Rangers and the front office only signed Dustin Garneau, it was clear that the man they call Machete was going to get the bulk of the team’s innings behind the dish. Not only has he done that, but he’s excelled in just about every way possible.

What the Numbers Say

Through Tuesday, Maldonado is second in the AL in innings caught and is tied for third in the league in Baseball-Reference WAR among catchers, and one of the players ahead of him is Austin Nola, who was recently traded to the NL. He’s thrown out 33 percent of attempted base stealers, which is above the league average of 27 percent.

Beyond the obvious defensive value, Maldonado is also having a career-best campaign at the plate. He’s hitting .260/.394/.403, with those on-base percentage and OPS totals being career-highs if the season ended today. He also just seems to have a knack with coming up with a clutch hit, something which isn’t easy to quantify.

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His salary for a full 162-game season would’ve been $3.5 million, so in this 60-game schedule, he’s set to earn a total of just under $1.3 million. A recent FiveThirtyEight article noted the value of one WAR (win above replacement) to be around $8 million. Maldonado has already provided 0.7 WAR in just over half this season.

So if he continues at his current pace, let’s say Machete finishes the year with around 1.3 WAR. That would mean the Astros are getting about $10.4 million worth of value while paying only $1.3 million. Projected over a 162-game season, that would equate to around 3.5 WAR, or $28 million of value, for only $3.5 million.

That doesn’t even begin to factor in the intangibles, such as Maldonado’s presence in the clubhouse and how well he works with pitchers. At age 34, he looks to be just fine to rely on next year as well, which the club will presumably do. Perhaps they can keep him around until prospect Korey Lee is ready to take over, which will be a couple more years at least.

Regardless of what the future holds, it’s clear that signing Maldonado was a great move by Luhnow. He’s been one of the team’s most valuable players so far this year and is vastly outperforming his modest contract.

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