Fan Confidence: Long-term Value at Catcher Is Hard to Find

May 21, 2012; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero chases down a foul ball against the Los Angeles Dodgers in the sixth inning at Chase Field. Montero would be injured on the play. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Depending on your disposition, the Miguel Montero signing this past weekend was either a blessing or a cause for despair. The more optimistic were likely ecstatic, while the more cautious were already preparing for the worst. It's difficult to really determine where this signing will go, but we can use a few basic modes of thinking to guide our expectations.

You sign a player long term because you either think he's going to continue to produce (up to a certain point, latter years in a contract are overpayment to keep the front-end years more reasonable), or the anticipation of even greater heights. Guys with no future, either at their position or with the team, are the ones who normally get the shorter contracts.

It's reasonable, then, to assume that the Diamondbacks believe, or hope, that Montero will continue to play at a high level for the duration of his new contract. The most optimistic view would be to say that he'd produce through all 5 years, but a more tempered view might guess 3. He's already produced two seasons of 3 bWAR, so the contract signals a desire that he produce either a total of 5 to 7 seasons of 3 bWAR.

But is that a reasonable assumption?

Our very own DbacksSkins speculated on Twitter the likelihood that Montero would have value through the 5 years. Is he right to be so suspicious? Well, largely yes. Using Baseball Reference's Play Index, I created a list of catchers that had at least 1 season of 3 bWAR, and then went through it to see who had 5 or more seasons. There have been 424 individual seasons (with 141 individual catchers) where a catcher has racked up more than 3 bWar, but those seasons have been dominated by 30 players with 5 or more seasons. These 30 players have claimed 219 of the 424 available seasons. In other words, 21.3% of the catchers with at least one 3 bWAR season claim a whopping 51.2% of the seasons.

The List

  • Joe Torre (7)*
  • Gene Tenace (7)*
  • Jim Sundberg (8)
  • Ted Simmons (12)*
  • Wally Schang (5)
  • Manny Sanguillen (5)
  • Ivan Rodriguez (10)
  • Jorge Posada (7)
  • Mike Piazza (9)
  • Tony Pena (5)
  • Lance Parrish (7)
  • Thurman Munson (8)
  • Joe Mauer (5)
  • Victor Martinez (5)*
  • Ernie Lombardi (7)
  • Johnny Kling (5)
  • Jason Kendall (7)
  • Elston Howard (5)
  • Gabby Hartnett (7)
  • Billy Freehan (5)*
  • Carlton Fisk (12)
  • Bill Dickey (9)
  • Walker Cooper (5)
  • Mickey Cochrane (9)
  • Gary Carter (10)*
  • Roy Campanella (6)
  • Smoky Burgess (5)
  • Yogi Berra (9)
  • Johnny Bench (13)*
  • Ed Bailey (5)
Catchers with * played fairly significant time at positions other than catcher.

Is it reasonable to believe that Miggy will join this list? Again, it's hard to say completely, but the odds certainly are against him. Another thing work against his favor is that many of the catchers on the above list spelled their time behind the plate with days either as a DH or another position. Montero has only ever played catcher for Arizona, and there have been no public plans for him to take in time at first (the logical place). If the D-Backs were an AL team then it wouldn't be something to worry about, but we're asking him to put historic numbers in a way that hasn't been done since before the DH was adopted.

If the Diamondbacks want to give Miggy the best chance to meet the value of his contract, then they're going to have to seriously consider getting him time somewhere other than catcher. It doesn't have to be full-time, but he's going to need some breaks. The biggest problem here is that his contract for catchers value. He's going to have to put up even better numbers if he gets moved to first to justify his deal. And assuming he makes a defensive change in the last year or two of his contract, it doesn't seem likely he'll be able to do that.

The Miggy contract is a microcosm of the larger story being played out in Arizona. Can we, as fans, believe that the immediate future is so bright? This season hasn't been a disaster, but it's quickly getting bogged down into barely average. We were given hope with the young arms down on the farm, but it's unlikely we'll see any of them soon. And we'll have Montero around for quite a few seasons, but will he be worth it at the end?
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