Lost amidst all of the chaos on Tuesday, the Miami Marlins signed catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a three-year deal worth $21 million to effectively put a fork in the catching free agent market.
Consider some of the contracts that catchers have signed this winter. Carlos Ruiz, who is six years older than Saltalamacchia, got three years and $26 million coming off of a season where he hit just five home runs, served a 25 game PED suspension, and spent nearly a month on the DL with a strained hamstring. Dioner Navarro, who was a backup in AAA in 2012, got two years and $8 million after a great 2013. Brian McCann is getting nearly a much per season ($17 million) as Saltalamacchia will get in total over the next three years. A.J. Pierzynski will get $8.25 million in 2014 after posting a .297 OBP a year ago.
Compared to those contracts, Saltalamacchia's three-year deal looks like a steal. Don't get me wrong: he isn't a perfect player. After all, in 2011 and 2012, Saltalamacchia had identical on-base percentages of .288. But is he worth $21 million over three years? Oh yeah. The Marlins are essentially paying him for four wins of value over these three seasons, when Saltalamacchia will be 29, 30, and 31 right in the prime of his career. He might end up giving Miami twice that much value over the life of the contract.
When you factor in how little production the Marlins have gotten behind the plate in recent years, his signing is a no-brainer. In 2013, Marlins catchers cumulatively hit .194/.249/.280 with nine home runs. In 2012, they hit .210/.295/.348. Despite breaking into the top 20 in 2011, Miami's catchers hit .226/.289/.338 in 2010. This has been a position of weakness for the Marlins for years, and Saltalamacchia will probably end up working out better than the last catcher Miami threw money at – John Buck.
Saltalamacchia's game has holes, but he's a monstrous upgrade over Jeff Mathis and Rob Brantly. I mean, Saltalamacchia's career-low .288 OBP was still 25 points higher than Brantly's .263 mark, the highest among all Marlins backstops last year. That's just jarring.