Monday, December 6, 2010

Around the division: Detroit Tigers

The Tigers have had a busy offseason thus far:

  • They re-signed Jhonny Peralta and, having re-signed Brandon Inge during October, committed to keeping him at shortstop.
  • They inked Joaquin Benoit to a three-year, $16.4 million deal that figures to set the bar for middle relievers this winter.
  • They landed Victor Martinez with a four-year, $50 million deal that takes him through is age 36 season.

Peralta hasn't become the player I expected when he broke in with the Indians as a slugging shortstop (his slugging percentage as a rookie was .520; his career SLG has settled in 100 points below that, and he hasn't slugged .400 since 2008). He's generally regarded as a bit too slow to be a good shortstop, and not strong enough with the bat to be a top-flight third baseman.

Victor Martinez for his career has
been pretty even versus lefties
and righties, but in 2010 was much
better against LHP.
The hard-throwing Benoit has had a very up-and-down career;  he certainly cashed in on a brilliant 2010 season (1.34 ERA in 60-plus innings, with just 30 hits and 11 walks allowed). He's 33, and anybody who thinks they know what to expect from him during that contract is deluding himself. He certainly fits the Tigers preference for power arms.

The Martinez signing is perhaps the most intriguing. He turns 32 later this month, a switch-hitter with a career batting average of .300 — and he is, at least theoretically, a catcher.

His ability behind the plate has been questioned in the past. The Red Sox last season had him catch 904 innings; in those innings, there were 126 stolen base attempts, and he threw out 17 of them. That wasn't the worst rate among regular catchers, and at least some of the blame belongs to the Red Sox pitchers, but ... he's not a strong defensive catcher.

And the apparent idea in Detroit seems to be that he'll be mainly a designated hitter. Alex Avila, who shoved Gerald Laird aside last season, is supposed to be the primary catcher, with Martinez behind the plate once a week or so.

I'm a bit skeptical of that plan:

  • Avila hit well in 2009, less so in 2010.
  • Martinez' bat is a greater plus as a catcher than as a DH.
  • In an era of 12-man pitching staffs, it's tough to carry three catchers, and few managers are comfortable without a catcher on the bench.

Jim Leyland may not be as obsessed as Ron Gardenhire sometimes seems about having a true catcher in reserve, but catchers do get hurt, and the Cuddyer Principle doesn't apply to catching: An out-of-position catcher is really obvious out there. Of course, Inge is an experienced catcher, and maybe the Tigers figure they throw him back there if need be.

I suspect Martinez is going to catch more often than the Tigers say he will.

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