The Detroit Tigers took care of a big need when they reportedly came to terms with Victor Martinez on Tuesday. With gaping holes on both sides of Miguel Cabrera in the lineup, no quality designated hitter and question marks behind the plate, the Tigers found one player that could fulfill all those problems at once. The move goes a long way toward helping us understand the mindset of the Tigers as GM Dave Dombrowski continues to lead them through an important, difficult offseason.
Contrary to the view some people have that free agents do not choose to play in Detroit, Martinez turned down an offer of three seasons and $48 million from the Chicago White Sox and four seasons and $48 million from the Orioles according to the El Nacional report by Ignacio Serrano. Doing so means he'll have the opportunity to compete for the American Central crown again, and that he'll join fellow Venezuelans Cabrera, Carlos Guillen and Armando Galarraga in wearing the Tigers' uniform. It's possible another beloved Venezuelan will soon be joining him if Magglio Ordonez re-signs with Detroit.
Detroit is not likely to get four years of Martinez's career norms of a .300 batting average, .369 on-base percentage and .469 slugging average, but that's fine. He's not being asked to hit fourth in the batting order and be The Man. He's being asked to be a body guard for The Man, and being a switch-hitter who can get on base and hit for some power he's well equipped to do so. He doesn't strike out often, and he led regular Red Sox batters in driving in runs last year when he knocked in 16.5 percent overall, 17 percent from second base and 41 percent from third base.. Couple that with Peralta's 14.5 percent from second and 45 percent from third and suddenly the middle of the Tigers' batting order looks like it will be a lot more productive than it was in 2010.
Martinez will almost certainly fulfill the role of 1/2 catcher, 1/2 designated hitter in the Tigers' lineup. He's a nice complement to Alex Avila, who has turned himself into a solid defensive presence the past two seasons at the expense of his bat. If Avila can recapture some of the hitting success he has in 2009 before being called up to Detroit, the Tigers would have nice flexibility at the position while keeping Martinez healthy and allowing some other batters to take a break from play in the field.
Taken as a group, the moves the Tigers have made so far this offseason show the team is again attempting to spend its way to the playoffs, hopefully with better results than last time. But the Tigers really had no other way if they wanted to put a competetive team on the field while Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander are under contract. Detroit is taking risks in signing Joquin Benoit and Martinez to a combined $18 million a year over the next three seasons, but it's the kind of risk that has the potential to turn out very well. With added above-average starting pitching help coming in the form of Jacob Turner and Andy Oliver over the next two seasons, Detroit may be able to use a superior rotation to weather the contracts in their later stages while being instantly competetive now.
So what's left on Detroit's to-do list at this point in the offseason to make sure the spending isn't going to go to waste? Start by crossing designated hitter Adam Dunn off the shopping list; the Tigers still need a corner outfielder. More exactly, they need a No. 3 batter kind of corner outfielder. More exactly: They need Magglio Ordonez. (OK, let's briefly admit they could still use Jayson Werth, but that's probably not going to happen any more.) Ordonez is a career .372 on-base percentage, a number that he eclipsed each of the past four seasons while also slugging .474 or batter four of the past five seasons. The past three, he did so batting in front of Cabrera in the lineup. Three, possibly four Venezuelan sluggers all in a row in the middle of the Tigers' lineup? Sure, it's not the 1927 Yankees or anything. But that's a formidable start and one that allows for a little more wriggle room at seven, eight and nine in the order.
As well, Detroit still needs to find some added short-term stability in the rotation. We can likely count on Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer putting up similar seasons to what they did in 2010. Rick Porcello will show an improvement. And almost anything is better than a season spent with Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman in the rotation with ERAs above 5. But looking at Phil Coke and Armando Galarraga in the rotation is not enough to ensure Detroit can immediately compete with the Twins for the division title.
The two best ways of going about improving would be to find a trade partner before or during the Winter Meetings to get a veteran pitcher to hold down the middle of the rotation, or to find a veteran reclamation project or two that are looking to sign a one-year deal to prove themselves. Obviously you'd prefer the trade method for a more proven commodity, but proper scouting and a bit of luck could pay off big time if the Tigers manage to find the right flier to take.
So far Dombrowski has had a pretty good start and it's not even Thankgiving yet. Maybe it's not the one sabermetrics analysts would want for every team. But for a team with a solid fanbase, nice TV contract and engaged owner, being sabermetrically perfect isn't the goal. Winning is. Re-building the team they way they're doing is the right way to keep all the stakeholders happy. This is most definitely a fan-friendly offseason.