Tigers take $50 million risk that Victor Martinez is rare catcher to age well into his mid-30s

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Victor Martinez’s reported four-year, $50 million deal with the Tigers would make him the third-highest paid catcher in baseball behind Joe Mauer and Jorge Posada, which is interesting given that nearly every other position has many more big-money deals.

Several factors keep catchers from cashing in more often as free agents. First and foremost is that there just aren’t a lot of great-hitting catchers. Never have been and likely never will be, which is why players like Mauer and Posada and Martinez are so valuable.

Teams generally focus first on defense behind the plate and the position also takes a lot out of players physically, so top catchers are often starting to show signs of decline by the time they reach typical free agency age in their early thirties.

Martinez’s four-year, $50 million deal would be very close to the four-year, $52.5 million contract Posada signed with the Yankees as a free agent three offseasons ago. Since then only one free agent catcher has gotten as much as even $10 million on the open market and that’s John Buck, who signed a three-year, $18 million deal with the Marlins last week.

Martinez turns 32 years old next month, so a four-year contract would go through his age-35 season. Even elite catchers tend to wear down by then, so while the $50 million commitment isn’t huge in the grand scheme of free agency it represents a risky investment in a backstop. With that said, Martinez has less wear and tear than most 32-year-old catchers thanks to seeing significant action at first base. After logging 1,108, 1,233, 1,110, and 1,043 innings behind the plate in his first four full seasons he’s caught a combined total of 2,038 innings in the past three years, along with 763 innings at first base.

Martinez’s defense has never been a strength and teams have started to run on him at will during the past two seasons, but his offensive production is good enough for him to be an asset if a full-time move to first base or designated hitter is needed and in the short term at least the Tigers are getting a bargain. They may regret the four-year, $50 million deal when he’s still on the books for $12.5 million as a 35-year-old in 2014, but in the meantime the Tigers are getting an elite-hitting catcher for less than even secondary stars typically make at other positions.

David Wright isn’t ready to retire

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There’s no doubt that the last three years have put David Wright through the ringer. The Mets third baseman missed the bulk of his 2015 season with spinal stenosis and made it through a month of games in 2016 before undergoing season-ending surgery to repair a herniated disc in his neck. In 2017, a bout of shoulder impingement, rotator cuff surgery and a laminotomy procedure on his lower back kept him off the field for all 162 games.

Despite the continual setbacks, Wright told MLB.com’s Anthony DiComo, he doesn’t believe retirement is in the cards for him this year. “When the end comes, the end comes,” he said Friday. “Hopefully, I’ve got a little more left. But I guess that’s to be determined.”

The 35-year-old last appeared for High-A St. Lucie in 2017, powering through three games with one hit and five strikeouts in 10 plate appearances. His career has advanced in fits and starts since 2015, but you don’t have to do too much digging to find his last great performance with the Mets. Wright earned his seventh career All-Star berth in 2013, slashing .307/.390/.514 with 18 home runs and a terrific 6.0 fWAR in 492 PA. While he isn’t expected to mash at those levels in the near future, if ever again, the Mets believe the veteran third baseman might still have something left in the tank as he tries to extend a 13-year run in the majors.

Per DiComo, the only thing standing in his way is a clean bill of health — not just for the upcoming season, but for the years to come. Wright said he wouldn’t risk returning to the field if it came with long-term implications for his quality of life.

The surgeries are obviously serious stuff, but it just kind of plays with your mind mentally, where you don’t know how your body’s going to hold up,” Wright said. “You don’t know how you’re going to feel a month from now. You don’t know how you’re going to feel a couple weeks from now. You’re hoping that it continues to get better, but you just don’t know.

Given the uncertainty that surrounds his return to the game, it’s a prudent outlook to have.