If you haven't noticed it already, Victor Martinez is hitting extremely well this year. And not just this year, but really, he's only continuing a hot streak that goes back to his first year with the Tigers in 2011. In that year, he hit .330 with an 850 OPS. He missed the 2012 season due to injury, and struggled in the first half of 2013 (hitting .258 with a 693 OPS), but roared back in the second half of 2013 to hit .361 with a 913 OPS.
This season is Victor's last in terms of his current contract, but he's off to a crazy-good start, hitting .333 with nine home runs, 23 RBI's, a 38 percent on-base percentage, a 977 OPS, and - to top it all off - he's only struck out nine times in 154 plate appearances, for a ridiculously low 6% strikeout rate.
After all of that, it's really a no-brainer, as Jim Leyland might say: Victor needs to get a contract extension.
But what if the Tigers decided to pursue other options in the designated hitter slot? Let's take a quick look at the playing field, and see which current MLB players are due for free agency in 2015, ranked by WAR according to Fangraphs.
Victor leads the field, second only to David Ortiz in WAR (Ortiz is signed through 2015). But he's also 35 years old. His performance since 2011 suggests that he'll continue to hit well at least a couple more years into the future, but it will probably require a salary bump.
Would the Tigers be interested in Cruz as a potential replacement for Martinez? They may be able to get him at a better price than Martinez, and he would probably launch a few more home runs than Martinez. He could also fill in from time to time in the outfield, if absolutely necessary (after all, his defense isn't anything to write home about).
Pinto is by far the youngest in this bunch, and probably the most affordable. But he's also only been playing in the majors since last year, so it's not easy to forecast what kind of production the Tigers could get out of him. He only played in 21 games last year, but he did hit .342 with four home runs in that time. When he's not serving in the designated hitter role, he's a catcher. Do with that what you will.
Dunn comes with a hefty price tag, he's only a year younger than Martinez, and we all know about his Three True Outcomes: strikeouts, walks, and home runs. There aren't many reasons to consider him a good replacement for Martinez. In fact, I can't even think of one.
Callaspo isn't exactly a spring chicken, and his career stats (.272 batting average with a 716 OPS) don't suggest that he'll be tearing the cover off the ball in the future. As a backup defensive player, he's done a bit at second and third base recently, but those aren't really spots that the Tigers need help with. The ony thing he's got going for him is his affordability.
He's young, he's cheap, and in his first full season with the Astros last year, he slashed ... good god, really? Just .223/.320/.451? And he had an MLB-leading 212 strikeouts? Let's move along.
This isn't really an option so much as it is a punchline which should make us laugh without ceasing. At that age, at that price tag, with that level of production? Forget it.
Although he's never hit above .300 in his entire career, he has slugged 20-plus home runs in five of his ten seasons, and his career on-base percentage is around 33 percent. There's no question this would be a downgrade from Martinez, but then again, the price is half off.
This one is just a bit misleading. Butler's contract comes with a club option of $12.5M, with a $1M buyout, and it's very unlikely that the Royals are going to suddenly set Butler free. But stranger things have happened, I suppose, and while he may not produce at the same level as Martinez, I'm sure Justin Verlander would love the idea of never having to face Butler in the lineup again. But as I said, it's not going to happen. Smart money says Butler will be back in a Royals uniform for 2015.
Now tell us what you think. What should the Tigers do to fill the designated hitter slot in 2015?