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The Diamondbacks’ Worst Contracts: #7, Miguel Montero

I guess at least he saved us from Trevor Bauer...

Arizona Diamondbacks Photo Day Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images
  • Date signed: May 2012
  • Length: five years (2013-2017)
  • Cost at time: $60 million
  • Adjusted 2022 cost: $82.40 million
  • Production: 2.3 bWAR
  • Negative value: $64.00 million

How the player got there

“It was very important to all of us to make sure that we lock someone like Miggy up. As he mentioned, he grew up in this organization. That’s important to us, too. If we have a gem like him, we want to hold on to him.”
Derrick Hall

At the time this contract was signed, Montero was already one of the longest-tenured Diamondbacks, being in his seventh season with the team. He had signed as an amateur free agent all the way back in April 2001, for the princely signing bonus of thirteen thousand dollars. All told, he spent 1312 consecutive years in the organization, which has to be close to a record. [I can’t think offhand of many who made it past ten: Jose Valverde is one, and Nick Ahmed will hit that mark on January 13] Miggy made his MLB debut at the end of the 2006 season, becoming the backup to Chris Snyder the following year. He took over after Snyder had his unfortunate accident in June 2008, and stayed the #1 thereafter.

The next four years were rock-solid for Montero, as he put up a total of 13.3 bWAR. Only three catchers in the majors were more valuable from 2009-2012: Joe Mauer, Yadier Molina and Carlos Ruiz, with Montero being younger than any of them. He was an All-Star in 2011, and got MVP votes both that season and the next. Montero became more expensive as he went through arbitration. In 2012, his last arb-eligible year, he and the team came to an agreement just moments before the scheduled hearing, settling for a figure of $5.4 million. That set the stage for contract negotiations, with the D-backs having no real alternatives in the farm system at catcher.

Initial discussions during spring training proved fruitless, and talks were called off in February, opting to table things until after the season was over. However, minds appear to have been concentrated again due to the extension signed by Molina in March - a five-year deal worth a total of $75 million. GM Kevin Towers admitted this contract “showed a change in the market, especially for catchers.” Discussions resumed in mid-May, the D-backs worrying that leaving it until after the season would lead to them competing with other teams, as Montero hit free-agency. On the other hand, Miggy never seemed to have had many doubts:

“I was pretty clear with my agents. I told them that I really want to sign here, I want to stay here. I never visualized myself playing for another team, to be honest. I feel like this is where I belong, so I was clear enough to tell them we’ve got to get something done with the Diamondbacks... I like to play happy. Everybody likes me here, I guess. I think here everybody knows the way I am. It’s something that I really thought about, my wife and I, so I was pretty sure I was going to stay here.”

What went wrong

“I’ve just got to keep doing my thing. That’s all I can worry about. I can’t think if I go 0-for-4 I don’t deserve that contract, you know. That’s going to happen. I’m going to go 0-for-10, 0-for-16. The reality is you’ve got to get up and go back and play the next day. I feel strong enough to put that behind me and go out and play.”
Miguel Montero

We turn to NostraJackSommers once again. About the extension, we wrote: “It is certainly a significant risk for the Diamondbacks. shoewizard pointed out last weekend that the closest comparative players to Montero did not age well, concluding “It does tend to lend credence to the general thought that catchers decline early and are a poor bet past age 29-30... For me, a 4 or even 3 year guaranteed contract is out of the question. It’s a bad bet. And I’ve always been a big Montero fan.”” With hindsight, a three-year deal might have been...okay. From 2013-15, Miggy earned $32 million and was worth 3.1 bWAR: not great, to be sure, but doing the math, a negative value of under $20m, and it wouldn’t have made our list.

It was the extra years beyond that which completely killed it. Montero earned $28 million over that pair of seasons and was terrible, being worth -0.8 bWAR across them. He had been shipped out of Arizona before we even got to that point, however, only two years into the five-year deal. The D-backs were rebuilding under new GM Dave Stewart, and wanted out from under the $40 million remaining. In return, we got Jeferson Mejia, who never got above A-ball, and Zack Godley, who certainly did. He pitched parts of five season in Arizona, with an 94 ERA+, but was last heard of pitching for the Gastonia Honey Hunters of the Atlantic League, I kid you not.

As mentioned above, Miggy was okay in 2015 for Chicago, but terrible and very expensive in 2016. As for 2017, there’d been a bit of a clash between Montero and Trevor Bauer when the young prospect was in Arizona, the catcher saying the pitcher “never wanted to listen,” and this may have been a factor in Bauer being shipped out of Arizona, to a future Cy Young and... /gestures vaguely off-stage left. Another clash led to Montero’s departure from Chicago in June. He ripped into Jake Arrieta’s lack of skill at holding runners on, and was DFA’d the next day. He finished the contract out in Toronto, and after signing in Washington for 2018, was cut two weeks into the season, ending his career.

In hindsight, it’s interesting to compare Montero and Molina. Indeed, it’s something we did back in 2013, as the contracts were just getting under way. By the end, it was very much a no contest, with Yadier aging like fine wine (and perhaps proving Jack’s rule is more of a guideline!). In the five years of his deal. Molina was a four-time All-Star, three-time Gold Glove, got MVP votes twice and was worth 15.7 bWAR, so about 2.6 wins per season more than Montero. Yadier played for four more season after Miguel retired in December 2018, and was still better than replacement value even in the last year, where he turned 40. Molina would appear to be a lock to make it into Cooperstown. Montero: not so much.

Biggest lesson to be learned

Jack Sommers: “Catchers decline early and are a poor bet past age 29-30” In related news, Carson Kelly turns 29 in July.