Soon after inking ace of aces Gerrit Cole to a record-breaking $324 million contract, the Yankees may be targeting the catcher with whom Cole enjoyed the most success in 2019. MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reports that the Yankees may have interest in free-agent backstop Martin Maldonado.
Maldonado, 33, was acquired by the Astros from the Cubs at the July 31 trade deadline this past season, and after that point he caught all of Cole's 10 remaining regular season starts. As Feinsand notes, Cole enjoyed plenty of success with Maldonado as his battery-mate. Here are the numbers: 1.57 ERA with 114 strikeouts and 11 walks in in 68 2/3 innings.
Robinson Chirinos caught a plurality of Cole's starts last season, and in those starts Cole had an ERA of 2.46 with a K/BB ratio of 6.08. Those are excellent numbers, but they don't approach what Cole was able to achieve with Maldonado behind the plate. As well, Maldonado caught almost all of his innings during the 2019 postseason, when Cole pitched to a 1.72 ERA in five starts.
To be sure, there's a lot of noise in catcher ERA numbers and the like thanks to things like quality of opposition, but it's possible the Yankees see something in the Cole-Maldonado pairing that they think will help their historic investment succeed in 2020. This passes the smell test, as Maldonado has for years graded out as an excellent defensive catcher. That's especially the case in comparison to Gary Sanchez, who, for all his merits at the plate, leaves something to be desired on defense.
As for Maldonado's work at the plate, he's got a career OPS+ of 73, which means he's not much of a hitter even by positional standards. He does average 14 home runs per 162 games played for his career, so he's got some very occasional pop. That's really secondary, though, as the Yankees are presumably focused on Maldonado as a personal catcher for Cole. Maldonado made just $2.5 million this past season, so he should come relatively cheap.