Victor Jesus Martinez fits the Tigers' mold. He is from Venezuela (Cabrera, Gonzalez), smiles a lot (Hunter, Cabrera), is a good citizen (Kelly, Hunter), and is an exceptional ball player (Verlander, Scherzer). So in the midst of Dave Dombrowski's shopping binge at baseball's version of Big Lots, let's celebrate a player whom we know.
V-Mart was signed by the Indians in 1996. They did not bring him to the states until 1999, and their investment began to bear fruit in 2001 when the catcher slashed .329 / .394 / .488 in Advanced-A. His promotion in 2002 to Double-A led to even more impressive numbers, and he was catching in Cleveland before the year was out.
Martinez had four consecutive seasons with an OPS+ over 120, playing almost solely at catcher. He made two All Star teams but missed time in 2008. Cleveland had him split time at catcher and first base in 2009 and he returned to his consistent form, a career slash line of .303 / .369 / .464. The Indians were going nowhere by late summer so they traded him to Boston for three pitchers including Justin Masterson. Yes, the Red Sox traded away six years of Justin Masterson for just over one year of Victor Martinez. V-Mart was a free agent after 2010 and was signed by Detroit.
His first year in Detroit was mainly spent as a designated hitter, though he caught about one game a week. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament working out over the winter and missed all of 2012. He returned in 2013 and started slowly, but by the end of the year his numbers were near normal. He even played a career-high 159 games in the year after knee surgery.
Victor is in the fourth and last year of a $50 million contract and will be paid $12 million for 2014. His contract may have felt high three long years ago, but is a good deal in today's market. It used to be that teams would hope to get excess value in the early years of a deal and assumed they may overpay in the later years of longer deals. Lately with high salary inflation some longer free agent contracts are starting to look downright reasonable.
Keys to Success
With Prince Fielder gone, Martinez needs to stay in the lineup while filling many roles on defense. He will typically be the designated hitter, but Brad Ausmus has indicated that he will catch in some games hosted by a National League team. He may play first base against particularly strong right handed pitching, especially if Nick Castellanos has a slow start. He will also give Cabrera a day off now and then to reduce the risk of injury. Victor only caught three games last year but is one more year removed from knee surgery.
151: The number of postseason plate appearances in Victor's career. Success follows Martinez as the Indians, Red Sox, and Tigers have all made the playoffs with him on the team. And in the postseason he has exceeded his career norms with a .314 / .377 / .482 slash line.
Martinez will hit .300 / .350 / .450, a slight reduction from his career rates due to aging. His versatility will be very valuable with the lack of team depth. He has batted leadoff in some spring games to get more at bats, which is more versatility than needed. Recently he led off a first inning where every batter except Cabrera had a hit in the inning. Then Martinez batted a second time, ending the inning hitting into a double play. These strange occurrences add to the joy of spring training, but it is time for games that count. After four postseason appearances, this is the year that Victor needs to play in the World Series.