Victor Martinez has been one of the top catchers in fantasy baseball for years, so his leaving the Boston Red Sox to sign a four-year contract with the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday shouldn't have much of an effect on his statistical value. Martinez is a reliable switch-hitter who annually hits for power and batting average, and when it comes at a scarce position for production such as catcher, fantasy owners are very interested.
Martinez, the No. 3 catcher and No. 47 player overall in ESPN average live drafts in 2010, hit .302 with 20 home runs and 79 RBIs this past season, numbers good enough to rank him second at the position on ESPN's Player Rater, behind only Joe Mauer. No other catcher hit 20 or more home runs and batted .300, and Martinez did miss a few weeks with a broken thumb. For 2011 drafts, there's little reason to think Martinez's numbers will change much, rendering him at the worst one of fantasy's top three catchers (behind Mauer and maybe Brian McCann) and a top-50 option.
Martinez struggled at the plate in only one season since becoming a regular in 2004, and that was in an injury-plagued 2008 campaign. Pessimists will focus on Martinez's career numbers at Fenway Park (.322 batting average, .900 OPS) as opposed to at his new home at Comerica Park (.225, .671), but I'm not going to read much into that. I'd say that balances out some knowing Martinez could end up hitting third in the Tigers' batting order, just ahead of perennial MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera. It's also possible Cabrera will hit third and Martinez cleanup. Regardless, Martinez always hits, so don't bet against him in 2011.
It should be noted that Martinez will turn 32 in December, and few catchers age well, but for the next season or two, he should be a safe fantasy option. In the last year or two of the contract, well, fantasy owners might want to steer clear. For example, for those in keeper leagues, I wouldn't call Martinez a top-5 catcher in 2011 drafts -- Buster Posey, Carlos Santana, Matt Wieters and a few others would trump him -- but he's still pretty good.
The Tigers received awful production behind the plate in 2010, as Gerald Laird and Alex Avila helped contribute to a .624 OPS, including a .223 batting average. Only the Texas Rangers, Houston Astros and, of course, Seattle Mariners received less at the plate from their catchers. I liked Avila's potential a year ago and still do, but I have to wonder whether he blew his opportunity. Then again, Martinez does have first-base experience, and I'd expect the Tigers to employ him at designated hitter on occasion as well (Johnny Damon is gone), protecting their investment. Avila could be worth a buck or two in AL-only formats next season, for he's a 23-year-old switch-hitter with power potential.
The Red Sox feel like they have someone with the potential of Avila in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but the jury remains out on him, since he really hasn't showed much at the plate in multiple stints in the big leagues. Saltalamacchia did hit .284 in 47 games with the 2007 Atlanta Braves before being the supposed key to the Mark Teixeira trade (since then, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and even Matt Harrison have done more for the Texas Rangers). Saltalamacchia is a switch-hitter and he's only 25, so he's got time to emerge, but in addition to struggling with a .248 batting average in 813 major league at-bats, he's had problems throwing the baseball back to the pitcher, and he's been injury-prone. Other than that, all is well.
Seriously, he used to be a terrific catching prospect and nobody is giving up on him yet, but I'd feel a bit better owning him in a dynasty league if he were a Kansas City Royal or Pittsburgh Pirate. This is the Red Sox! I would expect them to bring in at least one veteran catcher just to make sure Saltalamacchia improves. In theory, Jason Varitek could be an option, but there are other backstops on the free-agent market as well. If Saltalamacchia wins the job, I wouldn't rank him among the top 15 catchers yet but would take a chance in deeper leagues. He just hasn't hit enough yet.