Joe Mauer nearly became the prize of the 2010-11 offseason, but $184MM later, he’s a Twin for the foreseeable future and Victor Martinez is likely to be the most coveted free agent backstop of the winter. He’s hitting .281/.337/.461 with ten homers. Those are good numbers for a catcher, yet Martinez has averaged higher on base percentages and slugging averages in his nine-year career.
Some say Martinez is a first baseman masquerading as a catcher, but for the purposes of this piece, let’s assume that V-Mart’s representatives market him as a catcher. Admittedly, Martinez has thrown out just 19% of would-be base stealers this year (23% in his career), but he has been behind the plate for years, so teams can comfortably rely on him to catch, at least for a few seasons.
Here’s an early look at potential suitors for the four-time All-Star. Let’s keep in mind that one trade or injury could change this picture considerably:
- Red Sox - The Red Sox have Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but they’ve seen what V-Mart can do and may offer him a long-term deal. Martinez told Jim Bowden of Sirius XM Radio that the Red Sox have yet to offer him an extension (Twitter link).
- Tigers - The Tigers have money coming off the books and Gerald Laird is a free agent. Alex Avila could take on a larger role if the Tigers decide to spend their money on others.
- White Sox - Tyler Flowers is the heir apparent to A.J. Pierzynski, right? The 24-year-old has a respectable .223/.332/.450 in Triple A, so he may be ready for the majors. The White Sox are not a likely destination for V-Mart, but I don’t want to be the one to rule them out.
- Rangers - The luster has worn off Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez to an extent and Bengie Molina and Matt Treanor hit free agency after the season. The Rangers could turn things over to Teagarden and Ramirez for 2011, or perhaps the new ownership group will make V-Mart a competitive offer.
- Mariners - The M’s figure to give Adam Moore the chance to translate his minor league success into major league production, but Moore hasn’t fully adjusted to big league pitching yet.
- Mets - The Mets, who have a habit of spending big on free agents, could pursue Martinez if they don’t completely believe in the combination of Omir Santos and Josh Thole.
- Reds - Ramon Hernandez and Ryan Hanigan are hitting well, but the former hits free agency after the season and the latter has never been an MLB starter for a full season. The Reds may look to bring back Hernandez and spend on an impact outfielder or veteran starter instead.
- Brewers - The Brewers figure to spend on pitching, not catching, especially since George Kottaras is hitting pretty well and Jonathan Lucroy should be a contributor.
- Padres - The Padres could ask Nick Hundley to play every day (Yorvit Torrealba has a $3.5MM mutual option), but San Diego does have financial flexibility for 2011. Will GM Jed Hoyer use it to acquire V-Mart? Probably not.
- Dodgers - Russell Martin is an offseason trade candidate, so the Dodgers could be in the market for a catcher this winter.
One factor for all of those teams to consider: V-Mart currently projects as a Type A free agent, so he’ll cost a top draft pick if the Red Sox offer arbitration (as expected) and he turns it down.
The Yankees (Jorge Posada), Orioles (Matt Wieters), Blue Jays (J.P. Arencibia), Indians (Carlos Santana), Twins (Joe Mauer), Angels (Mike Napoli, Jeff Mathis), A’s (Kurt Suzuki), Braves (Brian McCann), Phillies (Carlos Ruiz), Nationals (Ivan Rodriguez, Wilson Ramos), Cardinals (Yadier Molina), Astros (Jason Castro), Cubs (Geovany Soto), Pirates (Ryan Doumit, Chris Snyder), Giants (Buster Posey), Rockies (Chris Iannetta, Miguel Olivo) and Diamondbacks (Miguel Montero) all have legitimate big league catchers under team control for 2011.
The Rays, Royals, Marlins don’t figure to spend big on a catcher this winter, but V-Mart should still draw plenty of interest. The Red Sox, Tigers and Mets appear to be the most realistic potential suitors at this point.