Victor Martinez and the White Sox

The White Sox struggled in 2014, and looking ahead to 2015 there are a lot of questions1. Adam Dunn is thankfully done as the primary DH for the Chicago White Sox, and although he ranged from terrible to bad during his time with the team, they still must replace him at DH.

There have already been rumors about Victor Martinez being a target of the White Sox, and the best way to take this in might be a straight facepalm.

There are two ways to look at the potential of this signing, it’s either Jim Thome or Adam Dunn. The last two late-in-their-career veterans that the White Sox acquired to play DH had different levels of success.

Both guys spent three seasons and change with the White Sox so it’s really easy to compare them.

HR Slash OPS+ bWAR
Thome 134 .265/.391/.542 138 12.1
Dunn 106 .201/.321/.410 99 –1.5

Dunn was so much worse than it seemed, if that’s possible. Even just factoring in offensive bWAR, he was at a putrid 1.4 for his entire time with the team. His best season was definitely 2013 when he hit 41 home runs and posted a 115 wRC+, which his essentially runs per plate appearance, factoring in AL or NL and which parks a guy played in. It’s based on a scale where 100 is average. To put the number into perspective, in 2014 Andrew McCutchen led MLB with 168. Ironically Adam Eaton had exactly 115 in 2014, good enough for 58th in MLB. Thome’s worst season with the Sox for wRC+ was 122.

Victor Martinez will be 36 on Opening Day, so the Thome comparisons are fair. The biggest cause for concern is that Martinez is coming off of not only the best season of his career, but the best season of his career by a lot. Check out these stats comparing his previous career high to the new ones he created in 2014.

When HR K% ISO AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Prev 25 8.6% .210 .330 .391 .505 .375 130
2014 32 6.5% .230 .335 .409 .565 .411 166

That is a lot of career bests to set in your age 35 season. Martinez is talented, and unlike Dunn or Thome he doesn’t strike out very much (career mark is 10.4% compared to 24.7% for Thome and 28.6% for Dunn). But both of those guys also walk a lot more. Bats slow down as players age, and guy who don’t walk a ton will have a tougher time when they lose bat speed. Martinez is also just wrapping up a 4-year contract worth $50M (about $12.5M per year). The problem finding comparables is that Martinez is almost exclusively a DH at this point.

He could play some 1B in a pinch (like Thome could), but no one wants to count on that. David Ortiz is about to finish up a 2-year $26M deal, Nelson Cruz got $8M, and Kendry Morales got $12M. There are not a ton of comparable guys. Morales, and Billy Butler are the only other DH-ish guy out there in free agency this winter. Besides the Tigers and White Sox, presumably Kansas City, Baltimore, New York and Seattle will at least kick the tires on him. It will likely take an average salary of at least the $12.5M he just made, and at least two years, but more likely three or four (maybe with an option or two mixed in).

So should the White Sox go for it? Martinez is good, and on a two-year deal, even at $15M/year, it’s probably worth it, but Martinez will almost certainly get more elsewhere. The Sox pitching is too much of a disaster right now to think they will be serious contenders next year, especially since Kansas City has emerged as a real team. Detroit will still be good next year, and Cleveland has some unrealized potential as well. In other words, the White Sox are still two years away at best, and banking on Martinez being this good in two years is a bit of gamble. The White Sox are far better off signing a low(er) cost veteran or two, and seeing what they have already in house and then deciding what to invest in if/when they have a more complete team.

Martinez might have another great season. He might have two. He won’t have four though. And he isn’t the kind of guy who is going to fill the park on his own. If the White Sox spent unconditionally like Boston or New York it would make more sense. As both the Thome and Dunn signings show though, signing an aging DH isn’t the automatic solution, and this team is more than a tweak or two away right now.

  1. More on this at some point in a future post []