One of the most important positions in baseball is the catcher. Historically they have mostly been coveted for their abilities behind the plate, instead of their abilities at the plate though there have been exceptions to this. This is because almost every team would rather have someone who can throw out nearly half of all runners attempting to steal over someone who can hit for an average and get 20 to 30 homeruns in a season. With their move to pick up 2017 Gold Glove winner Martin Maldanado from the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the Astros continue this thought process. This trade raised three questions: is Maldanado worth the price of left-handed prospect Patrick Sandoval? Is he that much of an upgrade over Max Stassi and Evan Gattis? And finally, what role will Maldanado have with the club?
The knee-jerk answer to the question of whether or not a catcher on the final year of his contract is worth a highly touted pitching prospect is no he was not. Sandoval was drafted in the 11th round of the 2015 MLB draft by the Astros, and since then he has steadily improved his craft. This season has been the left-handers best season by far, as going into the trade he was riding an ERA in the mid-twos over 88 innings of work. He has four pitches that he is able to consistently able to hit the strike zone with due to a repeatable delivery, and will probably be ready to contribute to a major league team within the next season or two. Despite not being a high draft pick, Sandoval quickly worked his way up the Astros’ prospect rankings and was one of their higher pitching prospects before the deal sent him to the Angels. Maldanado may be a fantastic catcher, but he is on the last year on his contract. So, unless the Astros manage to re-sign him before he leaves via free agency, it’s hard to say that he was worth such a highly touted prospect.
Now as to whether or not Maldanado is an upgrade over Stassi and Gattis, the answer is a clear yes. At least, behind the plate he is. Stassi has only thrown out 27% of runners attempting to steal this season over 58 games behind the plate, and Gattis is a catcher in name only as he has primarily been used as a left fielder and designated hitter. Brian McCann is sidelined until sometime in September, and even he only threw out 33% of attempted stolen bases when he was healthy. Meanwhile, Maldanado has thrown out 44% of runners who try to steal a base over 77 games played. This paired with the fact that he won the AL Gold Glove for catchers last year more than proves his merits behind the plate. Not only is the newly acquired catcher capable of throwing runners out, he is also a good field general, and will likely elevate the pitching staff even higher than it already is. The only area that Maldanado isn’t an improvement over Stassi and Gattis is hitting, in which they are both much better than him. In short, the Maldanado is a massive upgrade over Stassi and Gattis behind the plate, but he is a downgrade at the plate.
Due to the Astros desire to have a more defensively minded catcher behind the plate in the latter half of the season, he will likely serve as the starting catcher for the remainder of the season. At least until Brian McCann returns from the disabled list. When that happens, expect McCann to resume starting duties behind the plate as long as he is healthy enough to do so as McCann isn’t that much of a downgrade defensively, and is definitely more capable at the plate than Maldanado.
Overall, this trade is a mixed bag for the Astros. While it does shore up their defense by a large margin, it also takes away a talented prospect from their farm system. Due to the fact that Maldanado is likely just a rental for the team, it’s hard to say that they are walking away the winners of this trade. That being said, this addition will likely benefit the team in the short term, which was the goal of this deal in the first place. Maldanado provides a decent amount of short-term value for the Astros, but likely not enough in the long run to make this deal worth the price.