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$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.

Breaking Down the Today’s Game Hall of Fame Ballot: Lou Piniella

TORONTO - JULY 9:  Manager Lou Pinella of the Cincinnati Reds looks on during batting practice prior to the1991 All-Star Game at the Toronto Sky Dome on July 9, 1991 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)
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On Monday, December 5, the Today’s Game committee of the Baseball Hall of Fame — the replacement for the Veterans Committee which covers the years 1988-2016 — will vote on candidates for the 2017 induction class. This week we are looking at the ten candidates, one-by-one, to assess their Hall worthiness. Next up: Lou Piniella

The case for his induction:

He notched 1,835 wins, made seven postseason appearances, a won a World Series as a manager. That win total is good for 14th all time. Of the 13 men ahead of him, 12 are already in the Hall. The only who isn’t is Gene Mauch, who was under .500 for his career. Connie Mack and Bucky Harris are in that crowd and they were under .500 too, but Mack is kind of a special case as the all-time wins leader and Harris, well, I dunno, he hung around forever and the Veterans Committee was a different beast back in the 1970s. Point is, if you have Piniella’s win total and you’re over .500, as Piniella is, you’re probably getting in, at least eventually.

A lot of those wins came in some good places and at some good times, adding some psychological weight to that record. Taking the 1990 Reds to the World Series and beating the heavily favored A’s was a great story and, as the Reds’ last title for 26 years and counting, stands as a more memorable accomplishment than doing it someplace else. Likewise, his next job, in Seattle, coincided with the franchise’s best seasons thanks to the emergence of Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson and Edgar Martinez under Piniella’s command. Mariners’ history fundamentally changed during the Piniella era and he will always be associated with that. Oh, and his 2001 team set the single season record for wins with 116. He made two playoff appearances with the Cubs too. That’s been eclipsed by the 2016 team’s exploits, but it was a pretty big deal at the time.

It’s also worth noting that Piniella likewise had a very fine playing career, with 18 seasons of 109 OPS+ hitting, a Rookie of the Year Award and a couple of World Series rings on his resume. That’s not enough by itself to get him in the Hall, but he presents a nice total package as a Baseball Man Supreme who has been thought highly of for close to 50 years now.

Oh, one other thing: he was colorful. He had a temper and a repuatation as kind of a red ass, with a good number of on-the-field incidents which stick in people’s minds. That sort of thing doesn’t necessarily make someone a good manager or a good person, but Piniella has been seen as a guy who mellowed with age and, at various times in his career, showed that he had a sense of humor about all of that stuff which makes it play a heck of a lot better. For Hall of Fame purposes, it certainly plays a heck of a lot more memorably.

The case against his induction:

His years in Tampa Bay weren’t all that great and, by the time his days in Chicago were over there was a sense that he was sort of running on fumes and padding that win total to get him into that top 14. In both places Joe Maddon eventually came along and did better things and, in some cases, undoing some bad things Piniella did. Some believe he should’ve won another pennant or two and, yes, some of those Mariners teams disappointed in the postseason. Some people look less amusingly on his temper tantrums over the years and, I suppose, one could characterize them a bit more sinisterly than I did above without being too dramatic.

Would I vote for him?

I think so. As I mentioned in the George Steinbrenner entry, when it comes to managers and executives, I put a lot of weight on whether one could tell the story of baseball in a guy’s era without mentioning his name. Piniella is no Joe Torre, Bobby Cox of Tony La Russa in that regard, but he’s pretty close to that group in terms of the figure he cut in the game and, as I mentioned, he’s critical to the story of a couple of franchises. Certainly the Mariners but also the 1970s Yankees as a player and, possibly, the 1990 Reds. I tend to be a softer Hall of Fame touch than a lot of people, so I get that people may disagree, but I’d put him in.

Will the Committee vote for him?

Hard to say. On the one hand, Piniella feels like the sort of baseball man that gets rewarded by the Veterans Committee. On the other hand, the Veterans Committee took ages to vote in some other notable managers such as Whitey Herzog, suggesting that maybe Piniella will have to wait. This is the first year for the new composition of the Veterans Committe, however, so it’s hard to say if they’ll be tougher or easier graders. He may be the hardest call of all of the guys on this year’s ballot.

Twins hire James Rowson as their hitting coach

BOSTON, MA - June 4: The Minnesota Twins logo is seen during the fifth inning of the game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park on June 4, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
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The Minnesota Twins have announced that they have hired James Rowson as their hitting coach.

Rowson was the minor league hitting coordinator for the New York Yankees for seven of the last nine seasons, interrupted by a short stint with the Chicago Cubs as minor league hitting coordinator. He also worked at the minor league levels with the Los Angeles Angels. He played in the minors for the Seattle Mariners and Yankees.

Rowson replacesTom Brunansky, who was hitting coach for the past four seasons.