Free Agent Signing – Victor Martinez to the Tigers

We have the first major piece to fall into place from free agency this offseason, with the news that catcher Victor Martinez has agreed to a 4 year, $50 million contract with the Detroit Tigers.

It appears, according to MLBTR, that Martinez was offered both a 3 year and 4 year deal by the Red Sox, but for less money than the Tigers offered. 

From the Tigers’ Perspective

This clearly provides a middle of the order bat to help replace the free agent losses of both Johnny Damon and Magglio Ordonez, while replacing free agent catcher Gerald Laird. They have also clearly committed to him staying behind the plate, unless they plan to have him DH quite a bit. I could see him playing 1B on days when they want to DH Miguel Cabrera, but based on both of the contracts, they can’t really move Martinez off of catcher unless it is to the DH spot permanently.

I am also wondering what this means for the future of Alex Avila, who has not really shown a whole lot in his time in the Majors, and could potentially be a trade candidate as well.

From the Red Sox Perspective

They had clearly wanted to resign Martinez, but were not willing to meet the price that the Tigers were offering. They will be offering the free agent arbitration, and as a Type A free agent will entitle the Red Sox to 2 draft picks as compensation. It is interesting to note that the Tigers’ first round draft pick in next year’s draft, which would be the most likely to go to the Red Sox. The only players that have higher Elias rankings, and as such would get that pick, is if the Tigers were to sign one of the following free agents:  Derek Jeter, Cliff Lee, Mariano Rivera, Rafael Soriano or Jayson Werth.

The other problem this presents in the long term is that they now have a pretty substantial hole in both their lineup and their defense behind the plate. The team acquired Jarrod Saltalamacchia from the Rangers prior to the trade deadline, and would currently be the starter for the Sox in 2011. There’s also not a lot in the farm system, with Luis Exposito being the highest ranked catcher in the system according to both John Sickels (coming into 2010), and So the team may have to go out and get a catcher unless Saltalamacchia shows a lot of improvement on his previous performances.

What This Means for the Free Agent Catcher Market

There’s not a whole lot left out there. According to Cot’s Baseball Contracts, the biggest names left on the market are Rod Barajas, Gerald Laird, Bengie Molina, Miguel Olivo, Yorvit Torrealba and Matt Treanor. The best of this group really appears to be Olivo, with a whole lot of backups behind him. I’m inclined to believe that Olivo is going to be overpaid by a team that is in need of a catcher who will provide some production behind the plate.

How This Compares to the Highest Paid Catchers

Joe Mauer was supposed to be the top catcher on the free agent market this offseason prior to signing his 8 year, $184 million extension. This contract translates out to $23 M per season for a player who will be 28 years old at the start of that extension, and 35 at the end of the contract. The second highest paid catcher currently is Jorge Posada, at an average of $13.1 million per season through 2011.

I’m not sure if this necessarily has a huge effect on catcher salaries going forward, although Brian McCann‘s contract ends after the 2012 season and he could very well be the next to hit free agency. With the exception of McCann, I’m not seeing any catchers who are likely to command that type of salary in the next 2-3 seasons. Maybe further down the line we could see Buster Posey get into the same ballpark as Joe Mauer, but I’m imagining that would not be until at least 2013 or 2014, if it happens at all.

What This Means for the Catcher Trade Market

MLBTR did a post about this, which you can find here. Of the group of players that they mention, I think this could help the trade value of Mike Napoli the most. He seems like the player with the most value out of this group, and having the market become more shallow can only help the Angels’ bargaining position. I’d be shocked if he isn’t traded before the start of the season.

My Overall Thoughts

To me, it appears that the Tigers are really looking to compete immediately, and are willing to spend to do so. This, coupled with the contract of Joaquin Benoit, tell me that they may not be done yet either. The team probably could have gotten him for less money, but it really doesn’t appear like it would have been a whole lot less. They may come to regret this contract in 5 seasons when he will be a 36 year old catcher, but he should still be productive for the next couple of seasons at least.

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