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

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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.

Dodgers acquire Matt Kemp in five-player trade with Braves

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The Dodgers have pulled off their first blockbuster trade of the offseason, sending Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, Charlie Culberson, Adrian Gonzalez and cash considerations to the Braves for Matt Kemp, per announcements from both teams. The Braves are set to designate Gonzalez for assignment on Monday, making him a free agent.

Kemp, 33, had a down year with the Braves in 2017, hitting a career-low -0.5 fWAR in 115 games with the club. At the plate, he slashed a modest .276/.318/.463 with 19 home runs and a .781 OPS through 467 plate appearances, but was hampered by a nagging left hamstring strain through most of the season. This will be his 10th campaign with the Dodgers.

Whether or not Kemp can rebound during his second stint in Los Angeles is almost beside the point, however. The deal is effectively a salary dump to end all salary dumps. Offloading multiple one-year contracts for McCarthy, Kazmir and Gonzalez should bring the Dodgers back under the $197 million luxury tax threshold and position them to make a run at some of the big fish in next year’s free agent pool. It’s also worth noting that they may not keep Kemp around for long — per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com, the club appears as likely to flip the veteran outfielder as they are to use him. As for the Braves, they not only rid themselves of the $43 million due Kemp through 2020, but added some rotation and infield depth with McCarthy and Culberson and can now give top prospect Ronald Acuna a legitimate tryout in left field.