Coming into the 2012 season, one of the biggest questions facing the Arizona Diamondbacks was one that had little to do with on-field performance. In a day and age where personnel distractions are commonplace, the Diamondbacks were forced to deal with the task of re-signing one of their core players to a long-term deal, but he wasn’t making it easy.
Before spring training ended, all reports seemed to indicate that catcher Miguel Montero and the team weren’t very close on the terms of a deal, with Montero reportedly seeking a contract around that of Detroit Tigers catcher Victor Martinez, which was somewhere in the 4-year, $50 million range. That deal would pay him north of $12 million a season, and as recently as the beginning of May various reports suggested that the Diamondbacks weren’t willing to go that high.
Fast forward to Friday, and even though Montero was on the bench yet again while nursing a groin injury, he was dominating the headlines in the Valley of the Sun. According to sources, the 28-year old Montero had agreed to a fresh five-year deal with the Diamondbacks that will keep him in Phoenix through the prime of his career. The deal will reportedly pay him $60 million over the life of the contract, so it is right in line with what he had been requesting before the season started.
The easy question, of course, is whether or not Montero warranted that kind of money. On this site a few weeks ago, we speculated that the Diamondbacks would be best suited to signing him to a two-year deal at around $10 million a season, simply because of the fact that the team is going to be facing a lot of impending free agents over the next few years, with guys like Chris Young and Daniel Hudson topping that list. Despite that, the Diamondbacks ended up inking him to a new deal, but that is actually a smart move on their part despite our earlier skepticism.
He led the National League in several key areas last season, including in slugging percentage, and over the past few years he has been improving his defense behind the plate quite a bit. He is gunning out nearly 50% of would-be base stealers this season, which is leading the NL. That certainly played into Arizona’s decision to bring him back into the fold, but there is another underlying reason that can’t be dusted off very easily.
The Diamondbacks are blessed in several key areas of their farm system. They have a ton of good young pitchers, with Patrick Corbin, Tyler Skaggs, and Trevor Bauer all itching to move into the rotation if guys like Joe Saunders and Wade Miley yield their spots. In addition, they have several other good offensive prospects waiting in the pipeline. What they don’t have, however, is a dynamite young catcher that could have stepped in if they had allowed Montero to either walk after the season or had dealt him at the deadline to a contending team in need of a quality backstop. Michael Perez is probably the top-rated prospect at that position in Arizona’s farm system, and he was only drafted last year, so it’s unlikely he’s close to the majors. His 10 strikeouts in 25 Rookie League at-bats in 2011 also indicate that he is in need of some fine-tuning before making the leap.
Factor that in, as well as the dearth of quality catching options in the majors right now, and you are looking at a situation where Montero was essentially holding all the cards, and all GM Kevin Towers could do was try his hardest to make sure that he got the best deal he could for the team financially. Whether or not he could have gone lower than $12 million is something that we will never know, but the fact of the matter is that the Diamondbacks were stuck between a rock and a hard place, so the only option realistically was to ink Montero long-term.
For now, the team has eliminated this distraction and can get to work on what is actually important: trying to turn this season around. Losses like the one on Friday night aren’t going to help in that effort, and frankly neither is the team’s 8-15 record at Chase Field this season. What could help is a newly happy slugging catcher, and we’ll just have to find out whether showing Miguel Montero the money will help take his game up a notch when his team needs him the most.