Martín Maldonado the White Sox’s latest stab at importing leadership

New White Sox catcher Martín Maldonado
(Photo by Erik Williams/USA TODAY Sports)

It’s a testament to Martín Maldonado’s catching abilities that he’s started 118, 110 and 116 games over the last three years despite posting his worst three seasons as a hitter. He owns a .183/.260/.333 line since the start of the 2021 season, but the Astros still had no problems having him in the lineup two out of every three days, not to mention the bulk of their many, many, many postseason games.

But 2023 was Maldonado’s first season as a liability behind the plate, at least as a receiver, and that’s something that can’t be waved away as he joins the White Sox on a one-year contract reportedly worth $4 million, with a $4 million vesting option for 2025.

It can be downplayed, or at least placed on a backburner, because framing numbers can fluctuate from season to season. Framing numbers also have a tendency to slide over the years, because it’s a skill that declines as much as any other as a player enters his mid-to-late 30s, and Maldonado turned 37 in August.

His receiving could rebound to average, and he could continue chugging along as a defense-only catcher renowned for doing everything besides hitting. It could also foreshadow Maldonado’s unique profile finally succumbing to Father Time, so he poses a litmus test for optimism or cynicism.

Scott Merkin made the case for the White Sox adding Maldonado alongside Max Stassi in his story:

This signing is sensible for the White Sox with a young pitching staff that now has another backstop to pair with Max Stassi, whom the team acquired from the Braves earlier this month, and Lee. With potential turnover coming for a White Sox team headed by new general manager Chris Getz — who might be tasked with moving frontline starter Dylan Cease — there’s value in signing a veteran catcher who’s been a part of many winning Astros teams.

Lee, 25, impressed the White Sox with his September work behind the plate, but for his young big league career, Lee is hitting .100 at the plate. Edgar Quero, the team’s 20-year-old switch-hitting catcher ranked No. 81 overall by MLB Pipeline, will benefit from working with Maldonado.

And Chuck Garfien emphatically supported Maldonado’s arrival, sharing a story from Hannah Keyser as evidence.

And it’s entirely possible that Maldonado’s renowned preparation rubs off on a White Sox team that sorely lacked it. If that’s the case, then the Sox may as well name him manager, because he’ll have succeeded where Pedro Grifol and Mike Tosar failed.

That just runs counter to the recent history of the White Sox, which rejects leadership transplants like an immune system attacks a mismatched kidney. Here are some players the White Sox acquired with leadership being mentioned up front.

And maybe they really offered intangible potential, but when a player fails to perform, that angle falls flat. Maldonado could lean on his reputation with the Astros as his defense wobbled because he’d gained everybody’s trust over hundreds of battles. He’ll carry that reputation with him to Chicago, but if this is the year his game truly craters, that currency can lose a considerable amount of value during the exchange.

The good news is that Maldonado is playing the position that is least reliant on offensive production for team value, but if it’s mid-May and Maldonado is hitting closer to .100 than .200, he might face the same difficulties looking beyond his own problems that Paul Konerko wrestled with over his final two seasons.

Maldonado’s arrival also makes me wonder what purpose Drew Butera serves on Grifol’s staff. The creation of a catching coach position made a lot more sense when Korey Lee or Carlos Pérez figured to be prominent parts of the “plan,” but in a world where Maldonado and Max Stassi are catching most of the games, Butera’s “up-and-coming mind” might be able to wander after spring training.

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SaintCharlie5

Getz putting the kibash on Sal Perez signing may be his best move yet.

Holland23

With the way this organization ‘functions’, even now I don’t count out a trade for Sal Perez.

JazznFunk

Just sign leaders. The positions will take care of themselves.

Trooper Galactus

They still need somebody to shoehorn into right field, after all.

Matt Verplaetse

If you have to build half your lineup out of no-bat “leadership” guys because your feckless manager can’t control the clubhouse, then maybe you should have just let the feckless manager go.

Leadership would also seem more credible from people who could actually do their jobs well, which none of Getz’s pickups can if you consider their overall games and not just the defensive side.

HallofFrank

Yeah, your second paragraph is right on. I think a guy can be a good “clubhouse guy” even if he stinks, but I don’t think you can be a “leader” if you stink.

Though I consider myself analytically-inclined, I’m also inclined to think leadership and clubhouse culture matters (even if the White Sox are doing their best to ruin that phrase for everyone). But I wonder if the Sox “culture” is just so bad that it devours whatever leadership they try to add from the outside.

mikeyb

No strong feelings about this move, but I do have a question – Is the Sox pitching staff really that young at this point? It seems like we keep hearing that Stassi and Maldonado will be great help in developing the young Sox pitchers, but as of right now, but it feels like most of the guys who are currently expected to be regulars in the rotation would certainly qualify as veterans.

ChiSoxND12

“Young” is often a euphemism for “bad”, especially in Scott Merkin parlance.

JazznFunk

Young, bad or struggling in some way (like Kopech) could all stand to benefit

Matt Verplaetse

That’s a good point and reinforces the notion pairing a veteran catcher with a veteran catcher seems like overkill at best and roster mismanagement at worst.

zerobs

I think they only have one guy over 30.

aseballnut

The narrative of re-setting the locker room culture is hogwash. In a perfect world, Moncada and Jimenez won’t be around in 2025. Lopez and DeJong aren’t long-term solutions . Vaughn and Benentendi don’t need re-setting, they need to produce more.

So, who is all of this for? Grifol?

BenwithVen

it’s a translation of “Our manager has the leadership skills of a twig, so we have to bring in guys to lead for him”

knoxfire30

exactly

StockroomSnail

That #10 draft pick is gonna be sweet.

zerobs

If Jerry won’t let Grifol be a one-year mistake, then you have to do the next best thing.

knoxfire30

Becoming one of my biggest pet peeves, the we have a clown coaching staff, no real leader as manager, and a terrible owner so we need to sell leadership through guys who are bad at baseball…

670WMAQtheElder

JR is a reality. Grifol is a reality. The coaching staff has been improved a lot. The guys acquired so far are from winning organizations, so they know how it’s done, and I don’t think they are going to sit quietly if they think the Sox “way” is wrong. I expect some fights in the clubhouse. There are no long term commitments to the guys who “are bad at baseball.” But these guys are still way better than the guys who played last year.

mikeyb

Perhaps, although Keuchel came from the Astros and was nearly murdered by the rest of his White Sox teammates for annoying the hell of them.

Trooper Galactus

Reality bites.

GoGoSOX

I read the Hannah Keyser article about Maldonado. The Sox may as well dump Pedro and have Maldonado manage the team.

HoytWilhelm

There was some speculation that Maldonado would replace Baker, if he was ready to quit playing. Maybe what didn’t happen in Houston could happen here–if his playing skills keep fading, maybe even this season. If Maldonado’s half as perceptive, hard-working, and able to inspire as his teammates say he is in the Keyser article, he’d be a terrific manager.

King Joffrey

It’s noted above that Maldonado’s profile ‘poses a litmus test for optimism or cynicism.’
The same can be said for the average White Sox fan, if you toss out the optimism.

DocGreedo

Catcher is the new relief pitcher. Got to catch them all.

As Cirensica

At least there is a point for catchers when losing. For premium relievers, there is no point to bring them in to preserve nonexistent leads.

DocGreedo

I just hope catcher isn’t the new fixation like relievers were for Hahn. Add that Pedro was a catcher makes me worry that this will indeed be the case.

FishSox

Plus, remember when Pedro had to carry 3 catchers to give him all the roster flexibility he needed?

670WMAQtheElder

The Sox catchers were terrible in 2023. Lee was a bust. These are placeholders for the guys in AA right now.

StockroomSnail

It’s nice to know your GM’s fetish.

PauliePaulie

Acquiring a veteran to mentor promising young players makes sense. Unless, of course, the GM hasn’t accrued any young talent.

HallofFrank

Well, you can’t blame the GM for a lack of young talent. That’s the fault of the Scouting Director.

soxygen

Or the former director of player development.

As Cirensica

I truly like that article by Hannah Keyser that Garfien referred to. Very interesting. Getz keeps adding new faces. Many from successful organizations. It is as if he wants to purge as much as possible the roster abomination he inherited from Hahn.

We have 2 new catchers
We have a new SS
We have a new 2B
We have 2 or 3 new starting pitchers
We have a new LH reliever

And Getz is probably not close to be done. There is that persistent perfunctory demeanor towards RF. I still think he will try to trade Eloy, and he will dangle Moncada to whoever shows interest. Sometimes a bunch of new faces has a positive effect within a group accustomed to each other’s lack of effort and preparation.

StockroomSnail

Professionally bad isn’t much of a selling point for me.

Matt Verplaetse

If all the new faces are the types of players who at best belong on someone’s bench or at worst should probably be playing in Korea, you’re not doing anything productive, you’re just shuffling around the deck chairs. It’s activity but without a real point.

As Cirensica

It’s activity but without a real point.

There is a point. You just don’t like it.

Matt Verplaetse

Yeah, if the point isn’t winning games, then it isn’t really a point to me. Losing while playing better defense seems to be the only real goal here, as no move made under Getz has enhanced their chances to win now or in the future.

As Cirensica

Yeah, if the point isn’t winning games, then it isn’t really a point to me.

This team as it s constructed right now will win more games than last year’s team. I can almost guarantee it. So, the point is winning more games and it will be achieved. Just not enough enough games to contend, but that’s more due to preexisting factors (i.e. Hahn’s terrible tenure) than what Getz is doing at the moment.

Matt Verplaetse

They have exactly one major league quality starting pitcher, who they seem pretty likely to trade. They’ll lose 100 again, but hey, at least the infield defense will be slightly smoother!

Right Size Wrong Shape

I was about to argue with you, but then I learned that the White Sox just signed Tim Hill, who I have totally heard of and didn’t just look up on Baseball Reference, to a major league deal. I’ll have to revise my prediction of 50 wins for 2024.

LamarHoyt_oncrack

I had them at 50 wins also. I will need to revise as well, Hill had a -1.2 WAR last year so now I’ve got them at 49.

Have we completely ruled out the idea that Getz is just evil and trying to assemble the worst baseball team of all time?

LamarHoyt_oncrack

Evil is one possibility. Another is that he is doing it for comedic purposes.

As Cirensica

Never heard of Tim Hill

Right Size Wrong Shape

You may think it was pointless for me to make this mayonnaise, peanut butter and sardine sandwich only to throw it directly into the garbage, but the whole point is that I really wanted to open that new jar of peanut butter.

Last edited 1 month ago by Right Size Wrong Shape
As Cirensica

We can’t have nor have a new jar of peanut butter, so eat your sardines sandwich with mayonnaise and old peanut butter even though it sounds incredibly disgusting. Think of the starving children that have nothing to eat.

Last edited 1 month ago by As Cirensica
670WMAQtheElder

I think you are correct. Whether RF is fixed by trade or FA depends on a Cease deal getting done. My OPP had Eloy doing to the Angels for Silseth. A salary dump. Moncada is too expensive compared to FMV to move, but dangle away. Heck, dangle everyone.

Grifol is still around because JR won’t pay for another dead contract–right now. Mid season 2024 might be another story.

We will know if the culture is changing when Eloy wears his hat properly, if he is still on the team. And Robert, Jr. keeps his head in the game, every game. I fully expect there might be some physical altercations in the clubhouse, too. Moncada v. Maldonado, for example.

Matt Verplaetse

I couldn’t care less how Eloy wears his hat, and it’s hard to describe Robert as not having had his head in the game when he had the best season by a White Sox position player in a long time.

I know why these guys get criticism while the real drags on the team, guys like Benintendi and Vaughn, escape it, but it doesn’t get any less tiresome.

Joliet Orange Sox

I think the last paragraph about Eloy’s hat-wearing and such is intended as parody. No one actually cares about Eloy’s hat.

I think you are wrong about that. I’ve read plenty of comments over the years about lazy Cubans with their tattoos and jewelry and smiling during games.

670 probably isn’t the only commenter here who thinks the team is bad because of how Eloy wears his hat.

Last edited 1 month ago by Right Size Wrong Shape
GoGoSoxFan

Clearly Eloy’s hat is on straight, it’s his head that needs adjusting.

Weino17

Maybe Vaughn and Benintendi ‘escape it’ because they play hard and stay healthy. Moncada is a bum who is just now starting to get more criticism though still nowhere near what he’s deserved for a long time.

Right Size Wrong Shape

GoGoSoxFan

“If we’re going to lose 100 games again, let’s do it with some new faces.”
—Chuck Comiskey

StockroomSnail

When you can’t sell tangible benefits, sell “intangibles” and “culture” and other murky cheap things.

FishSox

Or, sell tequila.

It’s like dollar beer night but with a citrus garnish and more fighting.

Last edited 1 month ago by FishSox
GrinnellSteve

Tim Hill is the litmus test for Getz/Bannister/Katz. I’m anxious to see if they can get any productive out of him. This is the first acquisition for which I can see absolutely no justification.

I hope he’s one of our All-Stars this year.

King Joffrey

I hear he fields his position very well.

Right Size Wrong Shape

He’s been tasked with keeping Gregory Santos awake in the bullpen this season.

bobsquad

In all seriousness, the lefty ground ball mid-leverage reliever he’s replacing (Bummer) fielded his position very poorly.

I don’t see a lot to hate here, unless you were really excited for 60 Sammy Peralta innings.

King Joffrey

But flawless on the other four. (Litmus test for my optimism.)

roke1960

More dumpster diving. Just incredible. The Sox will be loaded with players nobody else wants.

StockroomSnail

Always have been.

Foulkelore

Tim Hill was on KC in 2018 and 2019 with Grifol. The justification is Grifol knows him.

a-t

As far as “leadership” goes, Maldy actually does carry a lot of ‘soft’ skills (pitcher psychology, reading and setting up hitters, calling games, etc) that have value for a team with a young group of catchers. I’m generally strongly pro-sabermetric in approach, but I really don’t see an issue with spending $4M for the young guys to pick the brain of the Astros’ longtime on-field run prevention guru.

DocGreedo

Any guesses on who’s getting bumped off the 40 man? I want to say Gavin and Oscar but that doesn’t leave you with anything.

NDSox12

There are only 4 or 5 outfielders on the 40 man right now (5 if you count both Eloy and Sheets as outfielders). So I will guess a pitcher… not sure which one though.

DocGreedo

That was my inital thought but scanning the list, while there are names I don’t know, I can see them not wanting to take the chance of losing them since we are so pitcher starved in depth. Carlos Perez and Popeye are going to be my guess.

knoxfire30

popeye is 22 no chance he is cut loose the only players on the 40 man younger then him are ramos and mena

perez definitely an option, about 4 or 5 pitchers could be shed as well, if it had to be an infielder should probably be remilliard

DocGreedo

You know I read Remillard but my brain said Hackenberg. I probably couldn’t believe him and Romy are still on the roster.

JazznFunk

Remillard is still around. But not surprising for a team that can’t quit bad players.

upnorthsox

And Declan Cronin is the winner!

StockroomSnail

Imagine getting outrighted by the white sox.

Right Size Wrong Shape

Salvador Perez trade incoming to open up some roster spots.

knoxfire30

another whitesox signing where most of the beat guys writing or tweeting about it had to add “to a major league contract” – amazing work so far by getz

Deja Vu

Great….we have all these catchers now so I’m sure they’ll help fill in the hole in rightfield and back up at first base. Heck, maybe they can play second base at times too. Nothing like a versatile team! Can’t wait to see who leads the team in stolen bases. It could be true that four hits will now be needed to score one run.