One of the strongest rumors of the Tigers off-season so far has been the possibility of signing catcher Victor Martinez. Alex Avila is still regarded as the Tigers catcher of the future, but he posted an OPS of just .656 last year. He finished strong, but there is no guarantee that he'll be ready to catch full-time for what will hopefully be a contending team next year. If the Tigers do sign Martinez, I assume the plan would be for him to be the starting catcher for the next year or two, while they bring the 23-year-old Avila along slowly. Then Martinez (now 31-years old) could serve more as a designated hitter in the remaining years of his contract.
The switch-hitting Martinez has batted .302/.368/.486 over the last two years and his 48.2 batting runs during that period ranks second in the majors to Joe Mauer among catchers. He has a career OPS of over .800 versus both left-handers and right-handers. There is no doubt he is one of the premiere hitting catchers in baseball.
The main knock against Martinez is his throwing arm. Runners ran wild on him as a catcher for the Red Sox last April as 24 of the first 25 attempting to steal against him were successful. After making an adjustment in his footwork, he gunned down 26% of base stealers which is just below the major league average of 29%. His career mark is 24%. I won't get further into the complex issue of catcher defense at this time except to say that his passed ball and error rates have been acceptable.
Can the Tigers sign him? Their main competition may be the Red Sox, who reportedly offered him a two-year deal in September. He wants more than that and the Tigers have not shied away from long-term deals to older impact free agents (e.g. Pudge Rodriguez and Magglio Ordonez) in the past. The other factor in the Tigers favor might be that he is Venezuelan. It is possible that veteran Venezuelan Tigers such as Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Guillen could help persuade him.
Martinez is one of the four most attractive position players available along with Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth and Adam Dunn. Of those players, I believe Martinez would be the best bet to sign with the Tigers. I also think he'd be a significant upgrade to the line-up at an important position. The move would make a lot of sense.