The word around the interwebs these days is that the Detroit Tigers have every intention of making a strong push for soon-to-be free agent Victor Martinez. The latest to state the Tigers intentions was Denver Post baseball writer Troy Renck, who tweeted yesterday that the Tigers are “poised to make Martinez a rich man.”
As a rule, I try to stay away from idle speculation, but this one seems to have legs. Martinez would fill a couple of holes the Tigers have and they certainly could afford to offer him the money and years he will be seeking.
General manager Dave Dombrowski said earlier this month that they would be seeking a free agent, right-handed catcher to compliment Alex Avila, who figures to get the bulk of the time behind the plate. Martinez, who will be 32 when the season starts, is a switch-hitter, best known for his potent bat, but lackluster defensive abilities behind the plate.
In theory, by signing Martinez, the Tigers would have a catcher when facing a left handed pitcher, and a DH when facing a right hander, all rolled into one. The problem, as I see it, is that Martinez’s bat, while productive, sure looks a lot better behind the plate than as a DH.
Dombrowski has also stated that they will be in the market for at least one, potentially two impacts middle-of-the-order bats this winter. Martinez could fit the bill for one of them, but what about the other? Detroit is known to be open to the idea of retaining Magglio Ordonez, but his range isn’t very good in right field, and he’s not getting younger. Adam Dunn has been mentioned, but he is a DH-only player in the American league. If you have Martinez DH-ing, there’s no room for Dunn, and maybe no room for Maggs, either.
All of this brings me to wonder that if Martinez truly is the Tigers top target, would they then become bigger players in the chase for a Jayson Werth or a Carl Crawford? Unlike Dunn, and to a lesser extent Ordonez, both Werth and Crawford are highly capable defensive outfielders. I know were are talking about the possibility of them signing two of the top five or six free agents, but there should be room in the budget for two of these guys.
Additionally, signing Martinez might tempt the Tigers to carry an extra catcher on the roster, which, in my mind, would at least partially defeat the purpose. Jim Leyland has been reluctant to use his backup catcher as a pinch-hitter in recent years, fearing that if his then only catcher gets hurt, someone without experience would have to finish the game. This probably wouldn’t be as big an issue as on days when he would DH, Martinez could shift behind the plate in the event of an injury to Avila. All that would mean is that the Tigers would end the game without the use of a designated hitter.
By all accounts, Martinez is a solid teammate and good clubhouse guy. He has a relationship with Jhonny Peralta from their days in Cleveland, and he knows the division. He has also remained a productive hitter over the past four years, averaging a .299/.365/.475/.840 line with 18 home runs and 84 RBI (those numbers include an injury-shortened 2008 season when Martinez played in just 73 games).
As I said, those numbers are tremendous for a catcher, but as a DH, they are probably just slightly above average. If Martinez is your DH, you will have a solid presence in the heart of the lineup, but you had better also pair him with a good outfielder this winter. If the Tigers do in fact sign Martinez, that will mean they will not be going after Dunn, and it could mean the same for Ordonez.
Now, if they are going after Werth as well? Then I am all for this plan.