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Tigers make big bet on Victor Martinez's bat remaining productive

As the richest DH in baseball history, Martinez will need to keep hitting like he has in his past few seasons.

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Leon Halip

That the Tigers and Victor Martinez agreed to a four year, $68 million contract extension is not surprising. Shortly after the Tigers were swept out of the ALDS by the Baltimore Orioles, Martinez responded to a question about his future with the team with a simple "They know." General manager Dave Dombrowski has repeatedly stated that the Tigers wanted Martinez back in 2015. Yesterday, Dombrowski called re-signing Martinez "a priority." Roughly 24 hours later, a deal was done.

Talk about having your priorities straight.

As was expected, the deal is a bit much to stomach. Martinez will be making $17 million per year during the life of this new deal, making him the highest-paid designated hitter in baseball history. Boston's David Ortiz, who has a higher career OPS than Martinez, will make $16 million in 2015.

But while Martinez showed a desire to return to Detroit, he was always more of a threat to leave than Ortiz. The Chicago White Sox and Seattle Mariners were both mentioned as potential suitors, with the Mariners still "in play" just moments before Tony Paul of the Detroit News confirmed the signing.

The Tigers were not about to let their man get away, though. With $105 million already committed to just seven players on next year's payroll, there was little sense in letting Victor walk to get a cheaper bat to fill his shoes. The 35 year old switch hitter was easily the best bat on the market this offseason, and the Tigers were willing to pay a premium to get him.

Will it be worth it? Obviously, that depends on Martinez's performance over the next four years. He hit .335/.409/.565 with 32 home runs and 103 RBI last season, but those power numbers won't last. Martinez has a career .475 slugging average and is slugging .487 in his three seasons with the Tigers. A career .306 hitter, Martinez has gotten on base at a 37 percent clip in his 12 big league seasons. He has hit .300 in each of his seasons in Detroit, and has topped the .330 mark twice.

Can he continue this going forward? It's tough to say. He has stayed remarkably healthy throughout his career, save for missing the 2012 season with a torn ACL. As a DH who will occasionally spell Miguel Cabrera at first base, he won't be taking the pounding that he did when he donned the tools of ignorance for the Cleveland Indians earlier in his career. He should be in the lineup just about everyday.

Many sabermetricians estimate contract value by determining the amount of money spent per WAR. In recent seasons, that figure has risen to roughly $7.5 million per win on the free agent market. Plug in Martinez's $17 million salary and you get 2.27 WAR per year, or just over nine wins over the life of his contract to make it "worth it." Martinez has been worth 7.8 WAR as a Tiger, but over half of that total came in 2014.

WAR and the dollars spent to acquire it does not tell the whole story, though. Martinez is considered to be one of the leaders in the Tigers' clubhouse. He has mentored young players -- J.D. Martinez's name popped up frequently in these types of discussions last season -- and led by example. His absence in 2012 had a palpable effect on the clubhouse atmosphere, according to Mario Impemba in his new book If These Walls Could Talk. You can't put a dollar amount on this, but it plays a role, one that the Tigers were willing to spend a few extra million on.

Yes, this deal may look bad in 2018. So may any of the other contract extensions the Tigers have signed in the past few years. But these deals were never about 2018. They were about winning now, and securing the best talent available for the window available to them. This doesn't mean that the team is screwed in three years. They have a master at the helm in Dave Dombrowski, one who has retooled this club on the fly multiple times already in his tenure. Betting big on Martinez may not work out in the long run, but it does secure the Tigers' immediate future as the team to beat in the AL Central.