Enjoy Miguel Montero this season, Arizona Diamondbacks fans. Because this might be the last year you see him in a D-Backs uniform.
Negotiations between Montero and the D-Backs on a new contract fell apart earlier this spring. According to Fox Sports Arizona's Jack Magruder, a source told him that Montero was looking for a deal that would pay him between $12 million and $13 million per season.
That price tag puts Montero out of the D-Backs' price range. The two sides agreed to a $5.9 million deal before the season, avoiding arbitration.
Would the catcher consider giving his current team the proverbial hometown discount? Montero isn't saying. For that matter, he wouldn't confirm with Magruder that he's asking for $12 million to $13 million in annual salary. (But that probably means it's true, right?)
The flaw in Montero's thinking, if he's comparing himself with Martinez, is that the Tigers signed him primarily as a designated hitter. Did Detroit hope he would catch more than 26 games in 2011? Yes, but the understanding was always that Alex Avila was going to see the majority of innings behind the plate.
Montero had his best offensive season last year, hitting .282/.351/.469 with 18 home runs and 86 RBI. That's just not as good as Martinez, who averages a .300 batting average, 20 homers and 100 RBI over his career.
However, Montero is a much better defender at catcher, in terms of throwing out base stealers and blocking balls in the dirt, than Martinez is. That's probably where he has his best case, though it might not really draw the big free-agent bucks.
Montero could always say, "Hey, at least I'm not asking for Yadier Molina money." Molina signed a five-year, $75 million extension with the St. Louis Cardinals, which probably brought a smile to prospective free-agent catchers such as Montero, Mike Napoli and Brian McCann.
But Molina is an elite defensive catcher, so maybe that does have a great financial value. His contract may have also been a unique situation, as the Cardinals couldn't afford to lose another cornerstone player after Albert Pujols left in free agency.
The D-Backs can't afford to let Montero go, as they don't have a suitable replacement. The question is whether or not they have the money.
If Arizona has to let Montero walk, there are plenty of teams that will be looking for a catcher. But let's scratch the Tampa Bay Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates and New York Mets off the list, as they won't meet Montero's price. Fortunately for Montero, some big-money clubs will have a spot for him.
Hello, Magic Johnson! Analysts such as ESPN.com's Jim Bowden expect the Dodgers and their new ownership to go after free-agent pitching, such as Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke or Matt Cain, in the offseason.
But they badly need a catcher too. This year, they'll be starting A.J. Ellis, a 30-year-old career minor leaguer, behind the plate. Prospects like Tim Federowicz and Gorman Erickson are also in the fold, but the Dodgers might prefer someone more proven.
Yes, I know—how original to say that the Yankees will throw major cash at a free agent.
But Russell Martin's contract will expire after this season, and if he's looking to get a raise over the $7.5 million he'll make this year, shouldn't the Yankees just get a better player?
Going by Wins Above Replacement, Montero was the fourth most valuable catcher in baseball last season, worth almost two more wins than Martin.
Jeffrey Loria has money to burn now with that new ballpark, and was looking to give it away this past offseason. Next year's crop of free agents won't have the slugging first baseman that the Marlins were chasing last December, so they'll be looking elsewhere.
John Buck is signed through 2013 and set to be paid $12 million through the rest of his contract. But as with the Yankees, if the Marlins have a chance to get a better player, shouldn't they do so? They could trade Buck to one of the many other teams seeking a catcher (though might have to eat some of that money).
A.J. Pierzynski is in the final year of his contract, during which he'll be paid a thank-you-for-your-service $6 million. If he shows no serious signs of wearing down and maintains the consistency he's shown through his seven years in Chicago, maybe the White Sox will bring him back.
But it's probably time to look toward the future, and that future is not Tyler Flowers.
Besides, wouldn't we rather see Pierzynski make the full-time jump to TV? He was surprisingly good—and likable—on Fox's postseason coverage.
No! What about Chooch?
But Carlos Ruiz will be 34 next season, and the Phillies can opt for a $500,000 buyout, rather than pick up his $5 million option for 2013. That would obviously be cheaper than what Montero is looking for, but who would be the Phillies catcher in 2014? Would top-catching prospect Sebastian Valle be ready by then?
Can Ruben Amaro find the money to upgrade at catcher and try to keep the Phillies' veteran-laden train rolling? It might be easier to do that than find a new second or third baseman, if it comes to that.