Alex Speier takes a look at the Sox' upcoming decision on whether to extend Victor Martinez, whose contract expires at the end of the 2010 season, and he starts with this eyebrow-raising claim:
Victor Martinez is one of the best hitting catchers in major league history.
As it turns out, Speier isn't altogether incorrect. As he points out, Martinez is 10th in OPS and 17th in OPS+ among all catchers through their age 30 seasons. That ain't bad. He's actually ahead of Thurmon Munson, Jorge Posada and Ivan Rodriguez on the OPS+ list, and he's not far behind Hall of Famers Gary Carter and Gabby Hartnett.
This got me thinking: Is Martinez on a Hall of Fame track?
The short answer: Maybe.
Now, I am not saying, as Tony Massarotti does in yet another poorly written, poorly argued column, that Martinez is "in the same ballpark as Mauer." But one doesn't need to be the best to be great, and Martinez is great … as long as he remains a catcher.
So the question of a contract extension and Martinez's future greatness go hand in hand. They both depend largely on what position he plays for the majority of the rest of his career.
Assuming he's a catcher, Martinez compares favorably to some Hall of Famers or future Hall of Famers. His No. 1 comparable on Baseball-Reference is Gabby Hartnett, and it has been for the last three years. Hartnett had a 125 OPS+ through age 30 to Martinez's 121. In about 140 fewer plate appearances, Hartnett has basically the same number of doubles, home runs, RBI and walks. Their lines through age 30 are nearly identical (particularly when adjusting for the slugging-heavy 1920s): .299/.372/.465 for Martinez, .295/.372/.506 for Hartnett.
Martinez also compares well with Carlton Fisk, who had a 130 OPS+ and a .285/.362/.486 line through age 30, and Jorge Posada (116 OPS+, .268/.369/.465).
Obviously, all those players are Hall of Famers because of what they did after age 30. Hartnett played another 10 years at basically the same level of play (127 OPS+), Fisk played at a 107 OPS+ level (still very good for a catcher) for 15 more seasons. Posada, who I believe is a Hall of Famer, has actually been a better hitter in the seven years since he turned 31 (131 OPS+).
By another measure, WAR, Sean Smith has Martinez at 22.3 WAR so far (or 2.8 a season), while Posada had 17.1 (2.1) and Hartnett had 23.6 (2.4). Fisk had nearly 35 WAR (3.8 per year) already.
So obviously it remains to be seen, but if Martinez can stick at catcher for the duration of his next contract and maintain the 120-125 OPS+ level, he's got a good shot, which is more than I would have thought.