Knee injury keeps Victor Martinez from catching

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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.

J.D. Martinez tells teams he prefers an outfield role

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Free agent outfielder/slugger J.D. Martinez is reportedly seeking an outfield gig, says Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald. According to Silverman’s sources, Martinez’s suitors have been informed that the veteran slugger would give preference to teams that can offer a corner outfield spot, rather than a DH-only role.

That could spell trouble for the Red Sox, who appear to be Martinez’s biggest suitors so far this offseason. Outfielders Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi are firmly established at the corners, and prior reports from club president Dave Dombrowski suggest that center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is not going anywhere anytime soon (thereby eliminating the possibility of reshuffling the outfield). The DH spot is still wide open for Martinez, who doesn’t seem to be totally closed off to the idea, but any full-time or part-time role on the field is likely off the table at this point.

Of course, the Red Sox aren’t the only ones pursuing Martinez’s services this winter. The 30-year-old slugger has been linked to both the Diamondbacks and Giants in weeks past, and while they have the roster flexibility to accommodate his preferences, they’ll need to clear another massive hurdle: the seven-year, $250 million contract he’s said to be seeking. Both clubs will need to get creative to make such a deal work. The Diamondbacks are rumored to be shopping right-hander Zack Greinke in an attempt to free up some room on their payroll for Martinez, while the Giants appear more inclined to scour the trade market for outfield help than shell out cash for another hefty contract in free agency.