$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.

Royals, Alex Gordon close to contract agreement

Alex Gordon
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MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan reports that the Royals and outfielder Alex Gordon are “getting close” to an agreement on a one-year contract. Terms of the deal aren’t yet known, but the Royals could make it official within the next few days.

Gordon, who turns 36 years old next month, hit .266/.345/.396 with 13 home runs and 76 RBI over 633 plate appearances with the Royals this past season. His offense has waned, owning an adjusted OPS of 84 since 2016 (100 is average), but he still plays decent defense.

Gordon has spent all 13 years of his major league career with the Royals. With the club in a rebuilding phase, he will serve as the clubhouse leader and be a mentor to younger players on the roster.