keyboard_arrow_uptop

On Wednesday, I wrote favorably about the Brewers’ five-year extension for catcher Jonathan Lucroy, which essentially assured the team of average-or-better production from the position at a reasonable rate through 2017. The Diamondbacks aren’t so lucky; according to Jon Heyman, their catcher, Miguel Montero, has done his time and is looking forward to a payday next winter.

The 28-year-old Montero has been Arizona’s primary catcher for the past three seasons, though he missed a significant chunk of the 2010 campaign while recovering from knee surgery. Already a solid, 2.8 WARP player in 2009, Montero put forth a career-best 3.8 WARP effort in 2011, and his production was one of the key factors behind the Diamondbacks’ division title.

Though he may not have the same name recognition as the league’s other top catchers, Montero was the third-most valuable backstop in baseball last season, behind only Alex Avila and Mike Napoli. Heyman believes that Montero will seek a deal comparable to the four-year, $50 million hitch that Victor Martinez—a fellow client of agent Alan Nero—got from the Detroit Tigers heading into the 2011 season.

Montero and Martinez are not particularly similar players. The former is in his late 20s and is a two-way contributor behind the plate; the latter is in his mid-30s and is likely to be a designated hitter or first baseman for the rest of his career. From an overall value standpoint, though, both are 3.0-4.0 win players, so the parallel between Martinez’s contract and Montero’s demands has some merit.

That spells trouble for the Diamondbacks, because it prices Montero out of their budget, and because the organizational depth chart behind him is ugly. Montero’s big-league backup is the 41-year-old Henry Blanco, and there is not a single catcher among the team’s top 20 prospects. There are options behind Montero on next season’s free-agent list, but many of them are either flawed or likely to be too pricey for general manager Kevin Towers’ tastes.

As I mentioned in Wednesday’s First Take, every projected 2012 National League contender with the exception of the Diamondbacks has an above-average to star-level catcher under contract through the 2013 season. Assuming Montero leaves in free agency, finding either a long-term solution or an adequate stopgap at the position might be the greatest challenge Towers will face over the next year. Nero, on the other hand, should have no trouble landing his client the $50 million he seeks.