The words “money” and “Arizona Diamondbacks” have gone together like oil and water for just about the entire life of the organization. The team won a World Series championship in 2001 with a bunch of big payroll players like Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson leading the way, and the massively backloaded contracts they received have been a thorn in the side of the team’s front office ever since.
With years of budget cuts and lower payrolls, the team still managed to stay competitive and win a couple of division titles, but all of that is about to change. The team is finally done with all of those payments, and they may have some money to spend at long last. With that new money comes some increased demand by players on the roster for their slice of the pie, and first up to bat is catcher Miguel Montero.
Montero has been a very solid part of the team ever since he came on board back in September of 2006. He has had a couple of very good seasons with the team, batting .294 with 16 home runs in 2009 and racking up 18 HR and 86 RBI last season in helping Arizona to the NL West crown. He has also improved his skills dramatically from behind the plate as well, gunning out runners with more frequency this season as he continues his maturation.
With all of these attributes in hand, Montero is looking to do some serious cashing in during this off-season. He will be a free agent at season’s end, and the team was unable to negotiate an extension with him before the season. It doesn’t seem as though they will work something out during the season either, as Jon Heyman of CBS Sports is reporting that the two sides have not been talking.
Heyman also reported that Montero is going to want Victor Martinez-esque money (Martinez is currently under a contract for four years and $50 million with the Tigers), and he speculates that the Diamondbacks may not want to go that high.
According to an article on ArizonaSports.com, the conventional wisdom seems to be that Montero is going to hit the free agent market. The article cites a main contributor to this as the contracts of Daniel Hudson, Ian Kennedy, and Chris Young all coming up for negotiation in the coming years, and so there may simply not be enough money in the coffers for Montero to get his as well.
There are several things to consider when looking at the possibility of a deal with Montero. The first among those, of course, is whether or not the catcher actually deserves the money he feels he does. For starters, his age is a benefit. He is only 28, and an extension would likely encompass the entirety of his most productive years in the majors. By comparison, Martinez was 32 years old when he signed his deal, and while he did provide Detroit with 103 RBI last season, he is missing the entire 2012 season with a knee injury, so his body may end up being way more fragile in the last two years of his deal.
One thing working against Montero in his pursuit of V-Mart money is the statistical gap between himself and Martinez. Despite playing at hitter-friendly Chase Field, Montero has never hit more than 18 home runs. By comparison, Martinez has accomplished the feat five times in his career. Progressive Field is also around the middle of the pack in terms of propensity for giving up home runs, while Chase Field yielded the 10th most in the majors last year.
As for the contracts that the above article alluded to, they will likely lead to raises for the players involved. Young will be a free agent after the 2013 season unless the Diamondbacks exercise an $11 million club option on him, Kennedy is arbitration eligible after next season (and is only making MLB minimum right now), and Hudson will be arbitration eligible in 2014.
These may seem like they are down the line a ways, but they would be in direct conflict if Montero wants a substantial raise from the $5.9 million he is currently making. That extra $7-8 million in salary would almost certainly mean that one of those guys would have to go, and while the team does have several gifted pitching prospects that they could replace Kennedy or Hudson with, it doesn’t seem like a logical idea to put a bunch of trust in a guy who isn’t proven rather than two pitchers who have definitely proven that they belong on the big stage.
One thing the team will need to keep in mind, however, is that they aren’t exactly deep at the catching position in their prospect system. The highest rated catching prospect they have is likely Michael Perez, and he was just drafted by the team in the 2011 Amateur Draft. He had 25 plate appearances in rookie league ball last year, and struck out in 10 of them, so he is clearly a very raw talent and isn’t likely to see the majors any time soon.
Konrad Schmidt, their catcher at Triple-A Reno, isn’t a whole lot better. He is batting .239 with five RBI in 71 at-bats so far this season for the Aces, so he isn’t going to be a magic bullet for a club that would need one should they decide to let Montero go.
The Diamondbacks’ best option would be to try to get Montero to sign for a two year deal for $10 or $11 million a season. The extra expenditure would prevent them from going out and getting some other players, but it would also buy them time to negotiate a longer term deal with him. It would also allow them to abandon ship if they decide that they absolutely have to keep the triumvirate of Young, Hudson, and Kennedy, but the odds are that Montero wouldn’t accept that kind of deal.
It will be interesting to see how Kevin Towers handles the Montero situation, especially if the Diamondbacks are still in contention when July’s trade deadline rolls around. He may end up entertaining offers for the catcher, and if he is fully convinced that he will not be able to bring Miguel back, he could surprise us all and pull the trigger.
Only time will tell.