There are only two catchers on the 40-man roster for the Detroit Tigers. This creates a situation that many managers would be uncomfortable with when you understand that one of those catchers will be Victor Martinez, who figures to be in the lineup virtually everyday as the designated hitter.
If the Tigers move forward as planned and give the bulk of the starts behind the plate to Alex Avila, Martinez will catch a couple of games a week and DH the rest of the time. One way or another, the Tigers plan is to get about 150 starts from Martinez in 2011. On paper, the issue of having only two catchers seems minor.
After all, the Tigers have spend years carrying only two catchers and rarely have had to utilize their emergency option. But they haven’t had a catcher like Martinez since the days of Mickey Tettleton, one who would be useful as a DH when not catching.
The issue at hand isn’t ultimately limited to late game situations. Avila, a left handed hitter, does not hit well versus left handed pitchers. As you would expect, Martinez will get the bulk of the starts at catcher when facing a southpaw. But late in games started by Avila (when Martinez is the DH), opposing managers will bring in left handed relievers to face Avila. Obviously depending on the game situation, Jim Leyland could elect to pinch-hit for his catcher and give up the DH by moving Martinez to the field in the next half inning.
This isn’t much different, apart from giving up the DH, to the situation last season when Gerald Laird was used to hit for Avila late in games. Either way, if an injury were to occur to the lone remaining catcher, the emergency guy would have to don the gear and squat behind the plate to finish out the game.
In giving up the DH, the Tigers wouldn’t face a serious problem, either. Sure, if the game were to go 12 innings or so, they could run out of available pinch-hitters to cover the pitcher’s spot, and relief arms could run thin thanks to having to pull the pitcher early when his spot in the order comes around, but these aren’t significant problems if for no other reason than it will happen so infrequently.
The worst case scenario is that one of the catchers gets hurt and the injury is not significant enough to warrant a trip to the disabled list. In that case, I think the Tigers will make the necessary roster move and add a true catcher to the active ranks and carry three catchers until the afflicted player returns to health. This is really the only time a third catcher should be on the roster. Given the lack of quality hitting catchers in the minor league system, carrying a Max St. Pierre or an Omir Santos would be crippling to the Tigers bench. Those players would not be viable pinch-hitting options and essentially make for a wasted roster spot. Security blankets simply don’t help you win ballgames.
If an in-game injury should force a DL stay for either Avila or Martinez, the most the Tigers would be without two catchers would be one game. A minor leaguer would be recalled in time for the next ballgame, anyway. There simply is no great risk in running with just two catchers, and the reward of doing so means a better hitter available late in games to be used as a pinch-hitter or defensive replacement at another position.