The Indians know the value of a great catcher and they have had their fare share over the past few decades. Starting with Sandy Alomar in the 1990’s, the Indians have had Victor Martinez and Carlos Santana continuing the offensive strength at the historically weak position. Last season, Yan Gomes took over and, although it was only for half a season, gave the better defensive performance than any of the backstops listed above. After the tremendous campaign that saw Gomes steal the starting role and bat .294, Gomes was given the starting role going into 2014 as well, forcing Santana to find a new position to keep his bat in the lineup.
For his effort, Gomes has been granted the largest extension in total dollars ever given to a catcher with just two years under his belt. The Indians and Gomes agreed yesterday to a six year deal worth $23M total or a $3.83 average per year. In addition to the contract that keeps him in an Indians uniform through 2019, the Indians have two team options for 2020 and 2021. The Indians have already signed Michael Brantley to a similar, but much shorter deal, but the Gomes contract is much more team friendly. While the team is assuming some risk, the $3.83M per season is incredibly low, even for a back-up catcher. For example, Lou Marson made $1M for his five plate appearances in 2013 and Kelly Shoppach made almost $2.5M per season through his arbitration years. Compared to starters, Joe Mauer is the highest paid “catcher” at $23M per season, but a more accurate comparison is with average starting catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia who signed a three year, $21M deal this off-season with the Marlins.
The exact parameters of the Gomes deal are unknown as of yet (it is expected to be officially announced during the Indians first home stand), it is known that the deal covers his last pre-arbitration season, four years of arbitration and his first year of free agency under the guaranteed deal. The team options will then cover his second and third free agent seasons, making him close to a career Indian if he sticks around the entire time. He would be 34 before finally being free to choose another team again.
Gomes is 26 now and certainly looking for some stability, but with the current state of inflation in baseball, it looks like Gomes have given up a lot of money for that safety. He is already better than Saltalamacchia on both sides of the plate (behind it and next to it) and by the time he would have become a free agent, he would probably be looking at a deal worth at least $10M per season for multiple years. It would depend on arbitration decisions, but it would only take moderate raises each season to match the $23M he is guaranteed.
Since the deal looks team friendly to this point, it is important to look at the worst case scenario. At worst, Gomes will lose his bat, but keep his defense and become a solid reserve catcher with Santana moving back behind the plate. Injury is always a possibility as well, but insurance will make the most serious types of injury of little risk to the team. While catcher has generally been the second most injury prone position on the team (behind the pitcher), the new rules protecting catchers from home plate collisions should keep his legs a little safer than normal. In the end, with inflation being what it is, the Indians should be happy with the deal as long as Gomes is able to play at least a few games a week for the next six years. The pair of team options only make the deal even sweeter.
One thing different with this deal than previous long term deals signed by catchers is that Gomes appears to be slated behind the dish for the duration. While Mauer, Buster Posey and even Santana are being forced to safer positions to increase their longevity, Gomes greatest value lies in his defense work behind the plate. Also, the other players signed to long term deals (Santana and Swisher) are in the most convenient places to move a catcher (first and DH), so there is nowhere for him to go. The Indians know it is important to lock up young, talented players for a long time early in their career and it seems they have found their starting catcher for a very long time.
Gomes’ ability at the plate combined his his glove and arm
behind it make him a very special player.