When the Tigers signed Victor Martinez to a four-year, $50 million contract this offseason the assumption was that he’d split time between designated hitter and catcher, at least in the first couple seasons of the deal.
Alex Avila’s emergence means the Tigers haven’t really needed Martinez at catcher much and now a sprained left knee is keeping him from even being an option behind the plate. Martinez last caught on August 4 and has logged time behind the plate in just three of the Tigers’ past 50 games.
Avila at catcher and Martinez at designated hitter is the Tigers’ best alignment, so the impact is minimal for this season, but owing another $38 million to a good but not great DH who may not be more than an emergency option at catcher is far from ideal. Martinez is a very good hitter and his bat has consistently been elite compared to catchers, but the standard for offense at DH is considerably higher.
Consider that the average catcher has a .699 OPS this season, while the average DH has a .769 OPS. That may not seem like a huge difference, but Martinez’s current OPS is .816 and his career mark is .836, so the transition from regular catcher to full-time DH has taken him from 20-25 percent above average to 5-10 percent above average. Of course, most Indians and Red Sox fans would probably point out that not having to count on Martinez defensively could be worth that difference and then some.
The Dodgers have signed lefty Rich Hill to a three-year, $48 million contract.The deal was reported to be imminent over the weekend, but was finalized today following Hill’s physical.
Hill missed a good deal of time in 2016 with blister issues — and he’ll be 37-years-old on Opening Day — but when he was healthy he was fantastic, posting the best season in his 12-year career. He had a a 2.12 ERA and 129 strikeouts in 110.1 innings between the Athletics and Dodgers.
Along with a healthy Clayton Kershaw a maturing Julio Urias and Kenta Maeda, the Dodgers rotation looks to be a strength in 2017.
UPDATE: Buster Olney reports that a deal is in place pending a physical. The financial terms are not yet known. UPDATE: Joel Sherman of the New York Post hears it’s in the four-year, $62 million range. That will make him, temporarily at least, the highest-paid closer in baseball history.
12:15 PM: Ken Rosenthal reports that the San Francisco Giants are close to a deal with closer Mark Melancon.
Melancon had an outstanding 2016, posting a 1.64 ERA, 2.42 FIP and a 5.42 K/BB rate in 71.1 innings while saving 47 games for the Pirates and Nationals. You may recall that the Giants had a strong interest in Melancon last summer. It was a well-founded interest given the bullpen woes which waylaid San Francisco in the second half of last season and continued on into the playoffs.
The terms of the apparently impeding deal will be known soon enough, but Rosenthal reported yesterday that Melancon was fielding offers in the four-years, $60 million range. That’s a lot for a closer, but it’ll probably look like a bargain compared to the deals signed with the other two top closers on the market, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. Some have speculated that Chapman could get a deal closer to $100 million than $50 million, though that seems optimistic.
What the past couple of seasons have shown, however, is that having a top bullpen will get you very, very far in Major League Baseball. Champan may have been gassed at the end of Game 7, but he was essential to the Cubs’ World Series title. Powerful bullpens gave the Royals a title in 2015 and the Indians an AL pennant this past year. A weak one was, obviously, the Giants’ achilles heel.
Their great need at the back end of the pen, according to Rosenthal’s report, is apparently about to be filled.