It’s another low-risk, low-reward signing, as the White Sox secured 37-year-old catcher Martín Maldonado according to Tuesday reports.
Maldonado slashed .191/.258/.348 (66 wRC+) in 407 plate appearances with the Astros in 2023, which earned him a one-year, $4 million, cling-to-the-majors deal. According to FanGraphs, his defense — a supposed strength — was subpar, and as a result he was worth -1.2 fWAR in 117 games.
The deal includes a $4 million vesting option for 2025, and that vesting option almost always favor teams, not players. Maldonado’s is likely is centered around games, so if Maldonado plays in, let’s say, 100 games in 2024, the White Sox will have him at $4 million in 2025 as well.
On the bright side, per Baseball Savant, Maldonado was in the 75th percentile among catchers in blocks above average, 71st percentile in caught stealing above average, and relatedly, 70th percentile in pop time. However, Maldonado was in the 1st percentile with regards to pitch framing. This weakness could rear its head quite a bit, especially given that 2023 White Sox pitchers had a wild streak of 4.11 walks per nine innings (second-most in MLB, behind Oakland, which had 4.40).
One positive part of Maldonado’s game that is difficult to quantify is how much pitchers enjoy throwing to him. Throughout his career, Maldonado’s main specialty has been his defense, and he has a reputation for being good at calling pitches. Maldonado’s experience and his ability to help his teammates will allow him to remain in the running for a roster spot for the White Sox in 2024.
This move comes shortly after the White Sox purchased catcher Max Stassi, 32 (2.9 fWAR in 2021, 0.0 fWAR in 2022, did not play in 2023), for what tracks right now to be the league minimum salary. The South Siders also have Carlos Pérez and Korey Lee, but both of them have struggled in the small amount of MLB experience they have had. In Lee’s case, he was drafted at the tail end of the first round by the Astros in 2019, and stood as one of the organization’s highest-rated prospects. However, his bat has not been close to MLB-ready, and it appears that the White Sox are uncomfortable relying on him to handle the position in 2024 — at least beyond an understudy role.
Although the White Sox have many options at the position, none are particularly appealing. Then again, they have few appealing options for any position on the team. So, if there ever was a time it was acceptable to sign a declining veteran to a one-year deal, now would be among the best times to do that.
It’s almost as if the team is chasing an overall No. 1 draft pick in 2025 it cannot make.