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$50 million deal looks worse with news Tigers will use Victor Martinez mostly at DH

Nov 26, 2010, 10:15 AM EST

victor-martinez-catching

From the Tigers’ point of view I liked signing Victor Martinez to a four-year, $50 million deal last week. Initially, at least.

My assumption at the time was that they would use Martinez as their primary catcher for as long as he was somewhat passable behind the plate, getting an elite-hitting backstop for the first two or three years of the contract before perhaps shifting him to first base or designated hitter for the final year or two.

It turns out, my assumption about how Detroit plans to use Martinez was wrong.

Jason Beck of MLB.com reports that the Tigers will utilize Martinez as their primary designated hitter from Day 1 and will likely use him at catcher only to give Alex Avila days off. Now, that certainly doesn’t make Martinez useless, but the less time he spends at catcher the less value he has to the Tigers.

Compared to the average catcher, Martinez’s offense is elite. Compared to the average designated hitter, Martinez’s offense is merely good. This season MLB catchers as a whole produced a .686 OPS, which was the second-lowest of any position ahead of only shortstops. Meanwhile, designated hitters combined for a .758 OPS. And first basemen, corner outfielders, and designated hitters–the group of players teams typically choose from when picking a DH–combined for a .780 OPS.

Martinez has an .838 career OPS, including an .844 mark in 2010. As a DH he’s about 10 percent above average offensively. As a catcher he’s about 22 percent above average offensively. Or, put another way: If the Tigers start Martinez at catcher they can also have another big bat in the lineup at DH. If the Tigers start Martinez at DH, that other lineup spot goes to Avila, who hit .228 with a .656 OPS as a rookie after posting modest numbers in the minors.

There were plenty of risks involved in signing Martinez to a four-year, $50 million deal even when I thought the Tigers were adding him as their starting catcher. Adding him as their primary DH carries many of those same risks and does so without nearly as much of the upside.

  1. dodger88 - Nov 26, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    I agree in theory but ultimately it comes down to who they would use at DH if Martinex caught regularly. If the combined OPS of Martinez & Avila is greater than a combination of Martinez & another DH, then they are smart to go with the former. Short of signing someone like Dunn, who is resisting being a DH, Martinez remains a good choice and he remains flexible in that he can catch and play 1B i either Cabrera or Avila get hurt or simply need a rest.

  2. cwkash - Nov 26, 2010 at 11:22 AM

    Do the Tigers have the most defensive spectrum washouts in the league?

    Cabrera 3B>LF>1B
    Guillien SS>2B>3B>LF and now a fragile2B again
    Peralta SS>3B and back to below average SS
    Inge C>CF>3B
    Martinez C>DH
    Rayburn 2B>3B>LF

    Aside from Jackson and Inge when his knees are healthy, the Tigers defense seems to be well below average.

    • fquaye149 - Nov 26, 2010 at 4:00 PM

      Wow. I hadn’t thought about that aspect of the Tigers. I wonder if they have more people to make several moves down the spectrum than any team in a long time. Or ever.

  3. apbaguy - Nov 26, 2010 at 11:52 AM

    I think Avila will get more than a few days off in this rotation, as he’s still very young (24) for a MLB catcher. Victor will get probably 40% of the C AB’s before the year is out.

  4. mcgraw111 - Nov 26, 2010 at 2:23 PM

    This is all politics, trying to calm Avila down from previous promises is part of the damage control. There’s no way you sign Victor to be a DH. There’s cheap DH’s available for a fraction of that price. At the very least it’s a platoon and not just a L/R platoon. Avila starts Spring Training in this slot and works his way out and everyone saves face.
    Plan B, Avila is probably being talked up for a trade……..

  5. henryd3rd - Nov 27, 2010 at 5:48 AM

    This may be the reason Cleveland and Boston choose not resign Martinez. He is an average catcher at best and a good DH’s can be had for a lot less then $50,000,000.00 over 4 year. Having said that there’s a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth in Beantown at Theo and the Red Sox braintrusts for not resigning Victor. But then again anything that makes the Bosox less lethal is okay with me.
    Go Yankees!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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