MLB Rumors: Astros plan to start Yainer Diaz at catcher moving forward
The Houston Astros' offseason plans will revolve around retooling the bullpen. A heartbreaking ALCS loss to the Texas Rangers exposed several issues with the pitching staff. There are, however, problems to address on the field and in the lineup, too. Few more glaring than the catcher position.
One of the Astros' true high-profile free agents is Martin Maldonado, who has started behind the plate in Houston for 4.5 years. The fanbase bemoaned Maldonado's inconsistent hitting, but he was a favorite of the coaching and pitching staffs. In fact, he still is. It's a question of whether or not the Astros should bring him back.
If all factors were the same, Houston probably would bring Maldonado back. He calls the game effectively behind home plate and there's something to be said for a strong rapport with key pitchers — especially in critical postseason moments. The Astros want to make a deep run, and Maldy has experience on such a stage.
Of course, not all factors are the same. Houston has rather quickly developed 25-year-old Yainer Diaz. He is a dozen years Maldonado's junior and last season, he slashed .282/.308/.538 with 23 home runs and 60 RBIs in 355 at-bats (104 games). Maldy's numbers wilt by comparison — .191/.258/.348 — and it's difficult to justify a sustained investment in Maldonado with Diaz on the rise.
Astros GM Dana Brown admitted the obvious in a recent interview with Ari Alexander of KPRC2.
"Diaz is going to be the main guy next year."
That just about closes the Astros chapter of Maldonado's career. He could theoretically return as Diaz's backup, but one has to imagine Maldy still desires a more prominent role. He has chaperoned Diaz well by all accounts, so the Astros will hope Maldy's penchant for game management behind home plate rubs off on his replacement.
Assuming Maldonado is out the door, Houston will now have to focus on finding a new backup catcher in free agency or via trade.