Tigers Agree to Terms with Victor Martinez

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Word around the internet is that the rumored courtship between the Detroit Tigers and free agent catcher Victor Martinez has reached a successful conclusion. All that stands in the way between of official announcement is a physical and the Thanksgiving holiday. A press conference is expected to come at the end of the week, provided there are no snags between then and now.

Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski has been very aggressive so far this off-season, committing to a total of 11 contract years and almost $90 million when you factor in the four-year, $50 million deal he’s giving to Martinez. As has been his way in the past, Dombrowski moves swiftly when he identifies a player he covets and is often willing to outspend his competitors when it comes to negotiating a deal.

According to Alex Speier of WEEI.com, Martinez turned down offers from Baltimore, Boston and the White Sox in order to take the deal offered by Detroit.

There is concern about the length of the deal from a Tiger fan’s perspective. When the deal is completed, it Will Carry Martinez through his age 35 season and catchers do not historically age well. Part of that concern will be mitigated by the presence of Alex Avila, who figures to get the majority of the starts behind the plate. The Tigers have remained steadfast in their plans to move forward with Avila as the number one catcher, but that might have been lip service designed to shield the media from their pursuit of Martinez. I expect we’ll know more about this situation when Dombrowski announces the deal. Regardless of the plans for 2011, you can safely assume (as Dave Cameron does) that Martinez will transition to a full-time DH by the final two years of his new contract.

Like many, you may have concerns about Martinez’s defensive prowess, but I think those are mostly overblown, especially when you consider the presence of Avila. Hardball Talk’s Aaron Gleeman seems to like the deal, while noting the potential for disaster.

"Martinez’s defense has never been a strength and teams have started to run on him at will during the past two seasons, but his offensive production is good enough for him to be an asset if a full-time move to first base or designated hitter is needed and in the short term at least the Tigers are getting a bargain. They may regret the four-year, $50 million deal when he’s still on the books for $12.5 million as a 35-year-old in 2014, but in the meantime the Tigers are getting an elite-hitting catcher for less than even secondary stars typically make at other positions."

Gleeman also noted via tweet that “Martinez’s new contract is for almost exactly half as much per season and for half as many years as Joe Mauer‘s.” Of course, Mauer is considerably younger than Martinez, but those two are generally regarded as the top two offensive catchers in baseball. Even if he ends up as nothing more than a DH, Martinez will make $1.5 million per year less than Gary Sheffield did when he was the Tigers designated hitter.

Another important factor to consider is that even after signing Martinez, along with earlier signings, the Tigers have roughly $30 million remaining of the $64 million that came off the books at the end of the year. Now, they have a few arbitration-eligible players that will eat into that, along with a healthy raise to Justin Verlander, but even if they have no plans to bring their payroll as high as it was a year ago, there’s enough room left in the budget to add another bat.

Moreover, there’s enough room left to add another impact bat. Carl Crawford may be out of their price range, and he’s apparently deep into discussions with the Angels, but Jayson Werth remains an option. More likely, the Tigers will turn to Magglio Ordonez to re-join the team for another season or two, albeit at a steep discount form the salaries he earned in his last contract.

There’s still a ways to go in the Hot Stove season, which typically doesn’t really get started until the Winter Meetings during the first week of December, so there’s time for another move or two. With Martinez now in the fold, Dombrowski will turn his attention to the next target. You can bet that when he identifies the next player on his priority list, he will act swiftly and aggressively.

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