Victor Martinez of the Detroit Tigers will be back this year after missing all of 2012 due to microfracture surgery on his left knee. I have previously written about his return from injury and what kind of fantasy baseball value he will have in 2013 for Fantasy Alarm. His return has sparked somewhat of a controversy over whether he is or will be eligible at catcher for the 2013 season. There are arguments to be made in support of having him eligible at catcher, but I think he should be eligible only at DH or a utility spot in your fantasy baseball league.
Let me preface this argument by assuming that your league’s positional eligibility requirements mandate that a player have at least 20 games at a particular position during the previous season to make him eligible to be drafted at that position. I realize that not every league uses 20 games as the threshold, but most leagues do so that is what I will use here.
In 2011, Martinez had 112 games at DH, 26 games at catcher, and six games at first base. Heading into 2012, he was clearly eligible at catcher. However, it became apparent based on these statistics and Jim Leyland’s preferences that Martinez’s days as a full-time catcher were over. The emergence of Alex Avila in 2011 allowed Leyland the flexibility to keep Martinez’s bat in the lineup elsewhere.
Some have argued that Martinez’s position eligibility should carry over to 2013 straight from 2011. I do not agree, because that contradicts the rules set forth in many leagues which require a minimum amount of games played during the previous season. It would also set bad precedent for future players who return after missing an entire season. We would all go for a ride down the proverbial slippery slope and that is not something league commissioners or fantasy sports service providers want to happen.
The Supreme Court of Fantasy Judgment agrees with CBSSports.com’s decision that the best option for Martinez is to make him eligible to be drafted only as a DH or utility player. The fact that he is projected to be primarily used as a DH in 2013 is irrelevant to this conclusion. If we based position eligibility on projections or assumptions, it would set equally bad precedent because of how many times things change in a short period of time.
Of course it is still possible for Martinez to gain catcher eligibility this year if he makes enough appearances there for the Tigers. He is behind Avila and Brayan Pena on the depth chart, but injuries can change things quickly. For purposes of your draft preparation, you should go on the premise that Martinez is not eligible at catcher. Rank him accordingly.
At the end of the day, it is still left to the discretion of league commissioners who use service providers that permit customization of position eligibility rules and requirements. However, if a league commissioner elects to override a service provider’s decision and ignore the minimum games played requirement, he/she must accept the fact that this precedent is being established and be prepared to act consistently the next time a player returns from missing an entire year.