After showing interest in free-agent catcher Willson Contreras, who signed with the Cardinals, and A’s catcher Sean Murphy, who was traded to the Braves, and with Christian Vázquez agreeing to a deal with the Twins, the Astros appear to be content heading into 2023 with Martín Maldonado as their starting catcher once again. Prospects Korey Lee and Yainer Diaz will battle for playing time in a backup role.
Maldonado made 110 starts at catcher in the regular season and started 11 of the Astros’ 13 playoff games, battling through a broken right hand and a sports hernia injury that required surgery after the team won the World Series. He posted a .600 OPS with a career-high 15 homers and 45 RBIs while guiding the best pitching staff in baseball to an incredible postseason run.
The Astros should be in good shape behind the trusted Maldonado, who will be in the final year of his contract in 2023 and will be at the bottom of a deep lineup. The club could still be in the market for a lower-level free-agent catcher to protect itself if Maldonado gets hurt early in the season, much like it did by signing Dustin Garneau before the '20 season.
“You've got to figure out which young catcher that you're going to groom to possibly take Maldy's spot -- which is a pretty good situation, when you've got an older catcher and then a younger couple of catchers that have been groomed to take his job,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “You don't know if one of those guys could be the next Johnny Bench or anything. You just don't know. They have the skill, I think, in the near future to possibly be an impact player.”
There are those in the organization who like Diaz more than Lee because of his bat. Diaz can also play first base in addition to catcher. He was acquired from the Guardians in July 2021 and slashed .306/.356/.542 between Double-A Corpus Christi and Triple-A Sugar Land last season. Lee has a tremendous arm, but he is behind Diaz offensively after slashing .238/.307/.483 with 25 homers and 76 RBIs last season at Triple-A.