Yesterday the news broke that the Detroit Tigers signed catcher Victor Martinez. 4 years. $50 million. That’s a lot of money, over $12 million a year once it get’s averaged out. Its not A-Rod money ($25 million a year) but its not bad for a soon-to-be 32-year-old catcher.
Victor Martinez is a rarity in baseball, a consistent, offensive-minded catcher. Yes, Martinez has a .300 batting average over 9 seasons; yes, he has hit 20+ homers 5 times and 100+ RBI 3 times, and yes he’s played 140 games or more 5 times. But he’s a player who will soon be 32, playing the most physically draining position in baseball, and he was signed by the Detroit Tigers, who don’t exactly have a good track record with free agents.
This is the same team who paid Bobby Higginson almost $30 million to hit around .250 with 13 HR from 2002-2004. The same team who traded away Carlos Pena, paid Gary Sheffield $23 million to hit .265 and .225, respectively, in two seasons. I could go on, and on, but the point is that Detroit tends to overpay for aging starts who are past their prime. The question is, did they do the same thing with Victor Martinez?
He’s coming off an All-Star season, the 4th of his career. A season in which he hit .302 with 20 HR and 79 RBI in 127 games. If he repeated such a season that would be quite the upgrade on Detroit’s 2010 starting catcher, Alex Avila, who hit .228/7/31. The Tigers have the money, because they decided to not pick up Magglio Ordonez’s $15 million option, or resign aging players Johnny Damon, Gerald Laird, Jeremy Bonderman, or Bobby Seay.
However, there are downsides. 32, although a young age in almost anything else, is old in catcher years. He’s played over 1000 games, 14 of them last season at first base, which is where he’ll probably end up sooner than later. The problem with that scenario is that the Tigers already have one of the best first basemen in the game, Miguel Cabrera, who isn’t going anywhere soon. So Martinez, one of the worst defensive catchers in baseball, is stuck at that position. The only upside is that he’s in the AL, which means he can also spend time playing DH.
Like any free agent signing, no one will know if it’s a good signing or not until years later. Martinez could get injured tomorrow and never play again, or he could have 4 more All-Star caliber years for Detroit. He’s a definitely a risk, an aging catcher who is a defensive liability with a history of injury problems, but given Detroit’s other options at catcher, and the fact that they’ve cleared payroll space for him, make it a calculated risk.
Josh’s Grade: B-
Josh’s 2011 Prediction: .288 avg./ 17 HR/ 74 RBI