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Reported Martín Maldonado signing a boost, but defense-first offseason has White Sox searching for runs

Vinnie Duber Avatar
December 26, 2023
Martín Maldonado

Martín Maldonado is, for these White Sox, something they sorely needed and also more of the same.

A veteran of six consecutive postseasons with the Astros, he’ll deliver exactly what Chris Getz and Pedro Grifol are looking for: a defensive-minded catcher who’s earned plaudits for working with championship-caliber pitching staffs and mentoring young players.

Getz made a vow to improve his team’s defense this winter, and Maldonado, who reportedly agreed to a one-year free-agent deal with an option for a second, helps him advance that mission. Despite some sour defensive numbers in 2023, the 37-year-old Maldonado has a reputation as a strong presence behind the plate, something the White Sox lacked as Yasmani Grandal’s injuries kept him from being effective in the final three years of his four-year contract.

Certainly there’s more to being an impactful catcher than those at times inscrutable defensive metrics. When the Astros eliminated the Twins from the playoffs this year, Carlos Correa, Maldonado’s former Astros teammate, was asked how the Houston pitching staff was able to silence the Minnesota bats. Correa pointed to Maldonado and his mastery of game-planning against opposing hitters.

“He knows what he’s doing behind the plate,” Correa told reporters in October, “and he knows every hitter’s weaknesses and he’s going to try to exploit.”

When Korey Lee arrived in the White Sox organization following a trade-deadline deal with the Astros, he spoke of Maldonado as a mentoring figure.

“I got to be around Martín Maldonado,” Lee said in August. “I got to learn from him. I got to see how he managed a pitching staff at that end, learned how he communicated with pitchers, and it taught me a lot. I’m going to carry that further into my career and make it my way, but he taught me how to be a professional catcher.

“Over there in Houston they knew how to win, and I want to bring that over to the White Sox.”

All that should be a breath of fresh air for the White Sox in the wake of a 101-loss campaign.

Surely, too, Maldonado got a rave review from Grifol, who was part of the Royals’ catching staff — with a focus on catching — during Maldonado’s brief time in Kansas City.

But while Maldonado ought to help Getz in his various quests to not only boost the White Sox defensively but also to implement a new identity and build a roster of players who play the game a certain way, his addition is a continuation of a pattern in Getz’s work this winter.

For all the positives on his resume, Maldonado has not been an intimidating hitter, and you don’t need to look much past his sub-.200 batting average to know it. He’s been a .183 hitter over the last three seasons, with a .260 on-base percentage and an OPS-plus of 64, making him 36 percent worse than the average big league batsman. It’s worth mentioning, though, that his 42 home runs in those three seasons are five more than Yoán Moncada’s 37 and just two fewer than Eloy Jiménez’s 44.

Getz has added a new shortstop in Paul DeJong, a new second baseman in Nicky Lopez and a pair of veteran catchers in Max Stassi and Maldonado. They are all upgrades defensively, but none does much of anything to strengthen a White Sox lineup that struggled mightily in 2023.

There’s no doubt the White Sox needed a better defense to win more games in 2024. But you can’t win games if you don’t score runs, and there will seemingly be an awful lot of hope placed on Moncada, Jiménez, Andrew Vaughn and Andrew Benintendi having big bounce-back seasons considering the lack of oomph added by this winter’s new faces.

Similarly, all of Getz’s additions to this point have been low cost, as far as major league salaries go, doing little to crack the narrative among fans that the team is looking to significantly throttle back on spending. While Getz, Grifol and others in the White Sox’ employ have resisted using the word “rebuild” — not entirely unwise considering the connotation the word has among fans after Rick Hahn’s failed yearslong project — every move made this winter has only reinforced the idea that the team has little intention of contending for a division title in 2024, making most of these newcomers look like inexpensive placeholders.

The organization is able to at least show what it’s waiting for at the catcher position, with 20-year-old Edgar Quero among its highest rated prospects. Quero, acquired in the trade that sent Lucas Giolito to the Angels, figures to be the White Sox’ backstop of the future.

What it means for 2024, seemigly, is a waiting game. Maldonado figures to be one of the main players. As for the other catcher spot, however, it remains to be seen whether the White Sox will go with Lee, who impressed team brass behind the plate at the end of last season, or Stassi, who Getz traded for earlier this month. For everything Grifol liked about Lee as a catcher, the youngster mustered only five hits during his September call-up. Meanwhile, the Braves covered almost all of Stassi’s 2024 salary, potentially making the veteran relatively expendable, depending on the outcome of any spring position battle.

Getz walked into his first offseason as general manager with a ton of holes to fill on this major league roster, and he’s addressed many so far, among the more active baseball bosses during a relatively sleepy winter for the sport. But while the Dodgers, for example, have shelled out more than a billion dollars to bulk up, the White Sox have spent comparatively little on their host of moves, with the sum total inspiring little confidence that this roster will look wildly better than the one that just finished one of the worst seasons in the club’s 123-year history.

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