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.