The Detroit Tigers' pursuit of re-signing designated hitter Victor Martinez is one of the most intriguing storylines of the offseason for Tigers fans. Martinez was arguably the team's most valuable player in 2014, hitting .335/.409/.565 with a career-high 32 home runs. His .974 OPS and .411 weighted on-base average (wOBA) both led the American League, while his 166 wRC+ was second to Mike Trout's 167. Martinez was worth 4.4 WAR, his highest total since 2007, when he was the Cleveland Indians' starting catcher.
Now a free agent, Martinez is reportedly seeking a four-year contract, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports. Martinez just completed a four year, $50 million contract with the Tigers, though he missed all of 2012 with a torn left ACL. He will be 36 years old on Opening Day in 2015, and his next contract will undoubtedly be the last one of his career.
But if he insists on getting a four year deal? The Tigers should let Martinez play elsewhere in 2015.
This isn't to say that the Tigers should not pursue Martinez this offseason. He will likely get a slight pay raise over last season's $12 million contract, but Martinez was an indispensable part of the Tigers' lineup. He will likely finish in the top five of the AL MVP voting as a designated hitter, something that hasn't been accomplished since David Ortiz finished fourth in 2007. Martinez has hit .321/.381/.487 with 58 home runs and 289 RBI in his three seasons with the Tigers. He is a leader in the Tigers' clubhouse and one of the most entertaining players to watch on the entire roster. Retaining his services for 2015 is important.
However, Martinez should not get a four year contract. Coming off a career season, his value is at an all-time high, but the Tigers should not be fooled into expecting four-win production from their DH in the coming seasons. For one, Martinez will not approach 30 home runs again next season. His home run per fly ball rate -- or the percentage of fly balls that left the park -- was 16.0 percent last season, well above his career rate of 10.7 percent. This resulted in a .230 ISO, the highest of his career. That was over 100 points higher than his .129 ISO from 2013, and 62 points higher than his career .168 ISO. His 166 wRC+ is the highest of his career by 36 percent. His previous career high was 130, which he achieved with the Tigers in 2011.
Martinez also struck out in just 6.6 percent of plate appearances, the lowest rate of his career. His career norm is 10.4 percent. However, this may be somewhat sustainable. Martinez has struck out in just 8.1 percent of his plate appearances in a Tigers uniform, and his 3.4 percent swinging strike rate is in line with the 3.3 percent swinging strike rate he had in 2011.
The signs of regression seem daunting, but Martinez will still be a very good hitter in 2015. However, at his age, how much longer will he last? The aforementioned David Ortiz has continued to put up monster numbers into his late 30s, but he has better career numbers than Martinez -- his 138 career wRC+ is significantly higher than Martinez's 125 -- and plays half of his home games in the hitter-friendly Fenway Park. Martinez has hit for a higher average in his career, but his value still lies in his ability to hit for some power. He has at least 33 doubles in each of his three seasons with the Tigers, including a combined 76 in 2011 and 2013.
A four year contract increases the risk of Martinez's production fading with age, potentially sticking the Tigers with another immovable contract. His absence would hurt the Tigers in the near future, but ensuring the team's future payroll flexibility is more important when determining who will hit behind Miguel Cabrera in 2015.