Detroit Tigers Sign Victor Martinez: Power Ranking MLB's 10 Best Catchers
Victor Martinez will receive a four-year deal for $50 million with the Detroit Tigers, according to Venezuelan reporter Ignacio Serrano of El Nacional, who first reported the agreement.
The Associated Press reported that the deal is pending the results of a physical. Martinez made $7.7 million last season.
The contract is a good one for Detroit, who needs offense. They did not have any player with an OBP over .350.
If he could also catch on a fairly regular basis, his value would be even greater, as his offense is rare for a backstop, but not as great for a DH.
Nevertheless, it was a good move by the Tigers, even if he will be overpaid by the third or fourth year of the deal. Theo Epstein and the Red Sox would like to have re-signed Martinez, but probably weren't willing to guarantee a fourth year.
Meanwhile, this signing reminds us just how valuable and rare a commodity good hitting catchers are in MLB.
Just how rare? Well, take a look at this Top 10 list and see what you think.
Debate is strongly encouraged. There are different ways in which to judge a catcher, and I'm a little old school in that I want my catcher to be defense-first, with a strong throwing arm.
But it is so difficult to objectively measure defense, as even the most sophisticated metrics do a poor job of evaluating catcher defense, so I will focus more on offense. In other words, you will not see any .200 hitting catchers who play good defense on this list.
10. John Buck, Florida Marlins
Buck simply murdered lefthanders with Toronto last season and parlayed his career season into a three-year contract with the Marlins.
His batting average was about 40 points higher than his career average, thanks to a .335 BABIP. He slugged about 75 points higher than his career norm.
So why isn't he rated higher on this list? After all, catchers who slug 20 homers don't grow on trees.
Well, I highly doubt that his luck is sustainable. With a lower BABIP will come a return to average, which in Buck's case is .243.
Since he doesn't walk much, his offensive value declines sharply with a lower batting average, though a move to the NL may help him.
9. Mike Napoli, LA Angels
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Napoli ranks just above Buck.
Though both are similar because Napoli will take a walk occasionally and his 2010 numbers were actually slightly below his career stats, so there should be no regression.
Napoli hit 26 homers with a .238 batting average and a .316 OBP. Now, .316 doesn't look like a good OBP, but he walked almost three times as often as Buck did last year.
Meanwhile, his defense keeps him from going higher on the list. His manager, who should know a thing or two about playing catcher, and is "the greatest manager in the history of the world," often started Jeff Mathis over Napoli.
So Napoli started only 59 games at the catcher position last year.
8. Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies
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Ruiz turns 32 in January.
For a catcher, he's starting to get a bit long in the tooth. But he hits for average and walks about 12 percent of his at-bats, so he has offensive value.
Defense is difficult to measure, but FanGraphs doesn't hate his defense. So he's at least average or slightly better, for what that's worth.
Ruiz obviously doesn't have the long-term projection of some of these other guys, but he has a little pop and won't hurt you defensively. He got on base to the tune of .400 last year, so he belongs.
7. Jorge Posada, New York Yankees
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Sure, he's old and cranky. So am I.
Admittedly, his inclusion at No. 5 may represent more of a career reflection than current value. But the man still caught 120 games last year and slugged 18 homers, so he's still a decent offensive player.
Meanwhile, his days as a catcher may be over. He's having knee surgery and will primarily serve as DH in 2011.
Still, up to this point, you'd have to consider him one of the game's top receivers.
He still draws walks, though his value drops sharply if he's only a DH next year. Right now, he belongs, but this is his last hurrah on any lists like this.
6. Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals
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I told you defense is difficult to quantify, but I'll make an exception in Molina's case.
By almost all accounts, the man is good at catching a baseball, throwing out runners and the nebulous "ability to handle a pitching staff," for what that's worth.
He is so good at those things, in fact, that we tend to overlook the pedestrian batting average and lack of power. Still, I'd rather have him as my starting catcher than the previous players, so that's what I'm basing his inclusion at No. 6.
5. Geo Soto, Chicago Cubs
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If you throw out his sophomore season, Soto would be considered one of the top two or three offensive catchers in baseball.
You can't do that, however, so he ranks only No. 5 here. Still, this is a guy who dedicated himself last offseason, lost weight and found his lost power and patience at the plate.
Which Geovanny will show up in 2011? Nobody knows, but I'm betting it's more the 2010 guy than the 2009 model.
Despite questionable receiving skills, he's not horrible at defense. His hitting is a strong plus, unless you don't like catchers with a .400 OBP and slugging .500.
4. Victor Martinez, Detroit Tigers
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Martinez just signed a big four-year free agent contract with Detroit.
Though his defensive prowess at catcher is less than stellar, his offense more than makes up for it. Meanwhile, his defense won't kill you, though the Tigers greatly reduce his value if they DH him.
As Dave Cameron of FanGraphs wrote, "In order to justify a $12 million per year salary, Martinez has to catch, and do so pretty regularly."
As a catcher, Martinez was a +4 win player for Boston last year. He gets on base and slugs around .500, so he's a very good offensive player in general.
But as a catcher? Extremely good.
3. Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
How can a rookie place so highly on this list?
Well, that's the only reason he doesn't go even higher, that's how. You don't have to be a rocket scientist or sabermetrician (are they the same thing?) to see that his potential outweighs his current value.
And his current value is pretty damn good right now, by the way.
Posey is the total package—he can hit, hit for power and throw. His receiving skills are very solid, and he showed much poise for a rookie, helping the Giants to an improbable World Series triumph.
Posey is the real deal. Only the "business of baseball" kept him from starting the season as the Giants catcher.
He will be a star for years to come if he stays healthy (cue the Carlos Santana music...um, no, not that Carlos Santana).
2. Brian McCann, Atlanta Braves
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McCann is good and still quite young.
You can almost set your watch by his consistent offense. In fact, that consistency probably hurts his perception, and fans tend to take him for granted since he hasn't had that one monster season.
But make no mistake: He's about as good as it gets when it comes to catchers. One of the more amazing things about his offensive production is he never hits into any luck.
His BABIP annually is never outrageous. In fact, he hasn't even topped .300 since 2008.
He just produces 20-24 homers each year and gets on base. And his defense seems pretty decent as well.
What's not to like here?
1. SURPRISE—JOE MAUER!!
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I'll bet you noticed someone missing from this list as you looked it over.
That someone is the worst kept secret in baseball.
Yes, he had a down year in 2010 from a power standpoint. But does anyone really doubt his status as the game's best catcher?
It's almost redundant to even go into it, but I'll try. Does he have power or not?
That one is up for debate after his homer total slipped from 28 in 2009 to just nine last year. But even if it wasn't the dimensions of the new ballpark in Minnesota that caused this slippage and 2009 was a fluke season, his offense is still plenty good.
His career OBP is .407. Even a 5.1 WAR, his lowest since 2007, was second only to McCann this year.
His w/OBA rocked the competition again.
By almost every account, his defense is very good. If he can regain his lost power, he's on a Hall of Fame path.
Even without it, he could well be.