What Re-Signing Victor Martinez Means for the Future of the Detroit Tigers
There is no denying that Detroit designated hitter Victor Martinez is one of the best hitters in the game.
His numbers in 2014 were just stupid. His nERD of 3.30 - meaning a lineup full of V-Marts would score 3.30 runs a game more than a lineup full of league-average players - was sixth-best in all of baseball. His Fangraphs Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) of 4.4 was astonishingly high for a desginated hitter, as much of WAR's value comes from defensive metrics. His Baseball Reference Offensive WAR (oWAR), a number that judges players based only on their offensive abilities, was 5.6, eighth-best in the AL last year.
And yeah, the "baseball card stats" were pretty dang good too. He hit .335 in '14, with a league-leading .409 on-base percentage (OBP) and a slugging percentage of .565, which gave him an AL-leading on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) of .974. He also added a career-high 32 home runs for good measure, with 103 RBIs in 641 plate appearances.
After you look at those eye-popping numbers, it makes all the sense in the world that the Tigers would sign him to a reported four-year, $68 million deal.
Martinez had said all along that he wanted to stay in Detroit, and the Tigers, seeing their world championship window closing rapidly, refused to let him go.
There are going to be people who criticize the contract. And certainly, signing a player who will turn 36 next year to a four-year deal is not the optimal way to go about your business. As Detroit's aging, over-priced roster begins to fall apart, it's possible that they'll have a tough time digging out of the mess they are creating for themselves right now in two or three years. Some of their contracts and commitments are downright scary.
Miguel Cabrera will be 32 years old next year, and he's signed through the 2023 season, when he will turn 40. He'll be making $28 million a year in 2016 and '17, $30 million per year from 2018 to 2021 and $32 million in 2022 and '23.
Ian Kinsler will turn 33 next year and is owed $16 million next year, $14 million in 2016, and $11 million in '17. And Justin Verlander has a contract that begins paying him $28 million a season starting next year, lasting through 2019, when he will turn 36.
They remind a lot of people of the 2011 Phillies, a team that won 102 games that season, but lost in the NLDS to the Cardinals in five games. The Phillies suffered injuries to Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, and Roy Halladay the following year and finished the 2012 season at .500. They followed that up with last-place finishes in 2013 and '14, with promises now of a long, overdue rebuild.
But Philadelphia did not err in deciding to continue going for it in 2012. They were not wrong to continue to try and prop the World Series window open for another year. The mistake the Phillies made was not recognizing that the window had closed after the 2012 season. They continued to try and reload in '13 and '14, when everyone else but them could see there was little chance of another playoff birth.
Detroit is not in that situation. They are still good. Continuing to go for it makes sense. They are mortgaging their future to do it, but baseball is about winning championships, not continually planning for tomorrow.
So yeah, the Victor Martinez deal will probably be an albatross for the Tigers in 2017 and 2018. But for a team clearly in win-now mode, the deal is a smart one to make, and it's certainly not as bad as some other free agent deals reached in the last few years.
|Carl Crawford||2010||Red Sox||7||$142|
These are just a few examples from the last few years. There are many more. Commitments of 7-10 years for players who are already in their 30s might yield some short-term gain, but it's going to kill most of these teams on the back-end. Martinez' contract is reportedly just for four years, and he also has the advantage of being a designated hitter, meaning the Tigers won't be hurt by declining mobility and production in the field as he ages.
They also didn't have to give up a draft pick to sign Martinez (although they may end up relinquishing that pick if they sign a top starter in free agency). The Tigers still have a productive Cabrera for a few more years, a young ace pitcher in David Price (at least for one more season), and the financial resources to re-sign Scherzer, and go after Jon Lester, James Shields, or a couple of the mid-range starters that are available in free agency.
Looking down the road, things are going to get ugly for the Tigers. Fans are going to have to cover their eyes and accept that the team is going to be pretty darn brutal in a few years, and possibly for a very long time.
But that World Series window is still open, if only for a short time, and signing Martinez helps open that window just a bit wider.
The goal in baseball is to win the World Series. Planning for the future is great, and the check for going all-in will come due at some point. As Phillies fans are now experiencing, it's bitter medicine to swallow. But the Phils also got a world championship in 2008, went to another World Series in 2009, and won five straight NL East titles.
If the Tigers can get that first world championship since 1984, they'll take the hard times that are almost certain follow.