Just before the trade deadline passed a few hours ago, the Red Sox and Indians completed a trade which will send catcher Victor Martinez to the Red Sox in exchange for pitchers Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone, and Bryan Price. Masterson is the best-known pitcher in the deal, having made quite an impact last season but struggling a bit this year despite strong peripherals. Victor Martinez is considered one of the better offensive catchers in the game, but is also considered one of the worst defensive players at the position.
Presumably, he won’t be playing much defense at catcher for the Red Sox with the presence of team captain Jason Varitek behind the plate. In addition to Varitek blocking him at catcher, the Red Sox have players already positioned at the other two places Martinez is capable of playing–designated hitter and first base. Let’s rule out the possibility of Martinez playing catcher more often that Varitek’s current backup. It’s also convenient to do this because catcher defense is incredibly difficult to measure, if it’s currently possible to do so at all. So how many runs better does this make the Red Sox in these three scenarios:
1) Martinez plays first base, Kevin Youkilis slides over to third base, Mike Lowell plays DH, David Ortiz sits.
2) Martinez is the DH, Youkilis and Lowell stay where they are, and Ortiz sits again.
3) Martinez plays first base, Youkilis plays third, Ortiz stays at DH, and Lowell sits.
One and two result in the same offensive lineup, so we’ll combine those two. Here is what ZiPS projects each player to provide offensively (above average) over the rest of the season:
Victor Martinez: 5.4 runs
Kevin Youkilis: 11.2
Mike Lowell: 5.1
David Ortiz: 9.3
That projection for Ortiz looks pretty out of whack considering what he’s done so far this year after his decline last season. I’m don’t think it’s fair to adjust that line, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just say it balances out with the added rest Martinez could provide to the aging and aching Lowell.
If Martinez plays catcher twice a week, he’d only provide about two runs above what George Kottaras would provide. If we look at the first two scenarios happening every day for the rest of the season, the Red Sox would get 5.4+11.2+5.1=21.7 runs above average. The third scenario results in 25.9 runs above average. When we look at the configuration the Red Sox had been running out there all year, we get 25.6 runs above average.
Now onto the defense. Martinez actually makes this defense worse, and you don’t need UZR to prove it. Youkilis is better than Martinez at first, Lowell is better than Youkilis at third, and Varitek is obviously better than Martinez at catcher. The only scenario where Victor Martinez doesn’t make this defense worse is when he’s playing DH. Couple this with the recently departed Justin Masterson being an above average reliever and swing-man, I don’t see how this could be a win.
When I started writing this, I figured the Red Sox would come out ahead, but not by as much as people thought. This completely surprised me, and I don’t think I missed anything major here. The Red Sox were already strong at the positions Victor Martinez affects right now. He’s a good player, but I don’t think this deal made the Red Sox that much better, if at all.