Victor Martinez agreed to a four-year, $50 million deal with the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday, effectively ending his brief stint in Boston.
Many Red Sox fans are questioning general manager Theo Epstein's decision not to re-sign Martinez, a switch-hitting All-Star who is one of the best offensive catchers in the game.
Make no bones about it — Boston's lineup will surely miss V-Mart's consistent .300 average and 20 to 25 homers.
In Detroit, the 31-year-old Martinez is expected to platoon at catcher with 23-year-old Alex Avila, and most likely be the DH when the youngster starts. In theory, the Tigers would like to groom Avila into the full-time catcher, and make Martinez the full-time DH by 2012.
Had the Red Sox re-signed Martinez, one could have predicted a similar scenario involving 25-year-old catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. V-Mart would have taken some of the burden off of Salty behind the plate, and played first base (with Kevin Youkilis moving to third) when he didn't catch.
The problem with this plan is that Martinez's value severely diminishes when he is playing first base or is at DH instead of catching. Even though he's been a pretty bad fielder over the past few years, his hitting has made him one of the top catchers in the game — and $50 million certainly would justify keeping a backstop of that caliber.
But as a first baseman or DH, Martinez is just slightly above average. In 2010, Martinez's OPS was .844, six points above his career .838 mark. Compare that to the rest of the league's first basemen, and there were 11 guys with a higher OPS, and 15 had more home runs than Martinez's 20.
This is not to bash Martinez — he's been a great player throughout his career, and will go down as one of the top all-around catchers and switch-hitters of his era.
But the Red Sox had the correct vision in their assessment of his future, and realized that he will soon go from being one of the game's elites at his position to a just a pretty good hitter — one that probably isn't worth 50 million bucks.
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