Victor Martinez belted his 11th home run of the (still young) season last night in the Detroit Tigers’ 5-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians — the famous stat is that Martinez has homered more times (11) than he’s struck out (9) so far. He’s been killing the ball all season — and in particular this month where his OPS stands at 1.191 — and all the excitement has caused a large segment of fans to call for an immediate extension for the soon-to-be free agent.
I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad idea — the Tigers will be in need of another bat next season and would otherwise have a vacancy at the DH position — but they should be prudent about how they go about it.
Martinez’s current deal was for four years and $50 million, and he’s making $12 million of that in this the last year of his deal. Using a quick $6 million per WAR rule-of-thumb, the Tigers are “paying for” two WAR out of Victor in 2014. He’ll easily eclipse that if he keeps up his torrid pace — he’s already accumulated 1.2 WAR — but we should understand that this isn’t going to happen. The reality is that Martinez is a career .837 OPS hitter and probably isn’t even quite that anymore.
If we extend those rest-of-season projections to WAR (1.3 for ZiPS and 1.4 for Steamer) and prorate them for a 600 PA season, we would get a season projection of about 1.9 WAR. Let’s just call it 2. So it looks like the current contract is pretty fair for a healthy V-Mart. So if we wanted to consider a two-year extension, $24 million total should pretty much be the upper bound of the deal. Except that’s before we apply an aging curve, so really it should be lower than that.
Victor is already 35 years old and, while productive right now, shouldn’t be assumed to be equally valuable in the future. Older players’ bats slow down, they run (even) slower, they get injured more often. Looking a year and two into the future, we should be expecting to see a decline. A decent rule-of-thumb for players over 30 is a half a win per season. We’re partway through this season so I’ll only deduct a quarter of a win from next year, but even so we’re probably looking at an adjusted expectation of about 3-3.5 WAR across the 2015 and 2016 season, or a total contract value of $18-21 million.This is all using general numbers and rules-of-thumb, but a two-year, $18-20 million extension might be close to fair if he’d take it. If not, the Tigers would be better off exercising a qualifying offer at the end of the season. The $14-15 million one-year deal would be a bit of an overpay (we’d probably only expect $11 or 12 million in value for 2015), but the Tigers wouldn’t be forced to take on any long-term risk and they would have the potential benefit of reaping a compensation draft pick if he turned it down and signed elsewhere. At the very least it’s a bargaining chip they could leverage against him, even without having to state it that way in negotiations (remember Stephen Drew, Kendrys Morales, and Nelson Cruz?).
And what happened if Martinez rejects the qualifying offer and leaves? What do the Tigers do for a DH? Well, Torii Hunter has actually been more valuable offensively than Martinez over these last two seasons in Detroit. Not that I expect him to be going forward, but he might be a reasonable short-term replacement for a reasonable cost. Of course, his impending free agency is another (though related) discussion.