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.
Twins right-hander Phil Hughes is headed to the Padres, according to announcements from both teams on Sunday. The Padres will also receive the 74th overall draft pick and cash considerations from the Twins, who are getting minor league catcher Janigson Villalobos in return. Minnesota is expected to absorb $7.5 million of Hughes’ $22 million contract; per MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand, they’ll take on his remaining salary for the 2018 season and pay an additional $5.7 million in 2019.
Hughes, 31, is far from the 16-win, sub-4.00 ERA hurler the Twins enjoyed in 2014. He hasn’t pitched more than 60 innings in any season since 2015, due in part to multiple bouts of back stiffness and shoulder surgeries. He was designated for assignment last week after missing significant time with a left oblique strain and delivering a 6.75 ERA, 3.8 BB/9 and 6.0 SO/9 through his first 12 innings of 2018.
Villalobos, meanwhile, will provide the Twins with some depth as he continues to work his way through the minor league system. The 21-year-old backstop recently completed a circuit with the Padres’ rookie-level affiliate in the Arizona League, slashing .275/.367/.388 with eight extra bases and a .755 OPS in 98 PA.
The real get for the Padres isn’t Hughes (even with much of his salary already accounted for), but the Competitive Balance B selection in next week’s amateur draft. As MLB.com’s AJ Cassavell points out, the club lost their second-round pick after inking Eric Hosmer to a massive eight-year, $144 million deal back in February.