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What would the Tigers do without Victor Martinez in the lineup?

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Losing Victor Martinez would blow a large hole in the Tigers' lineup. Here are a few ways they might try to recover.

Leon Halip

Major league baseball’s free agency period is officially under way. The "quiet period", which gives clubs a five day exclusive negotiating period to work out a contract with their own potential free agent players, has come to an end, and seven Detroit Tigers, including Max Scherzer, Victor Martinez, and Torii Hunter are now free agents, able to sign with any major league club.

Scherzer is not expected to be back with the Tigers after turning down an offer of six years and $ 144 million prior to the 2014 season. He figures to land a contract for more years and more money than that offer over the winter. Hunter is also not expected back, especially if the Tigers are able to work out a contract with Martinez to continue as their designated hitter.

Martinez, who turns 36 years of age in December, remains the top free agent priority for the Tigers and Dave Dombrowski, but his return is anything but assured. He is reported to be looking for a four year contract, which would take him up to age 40. He is coming off a career season at the plate where he led the league in weighted On Base Average (wOBA), on base percentage, and weighted runs created (wRC).  He also led the Tigers in home runs and batting average. He is viewed by many as the best hitter available on the free agent market this winter.

It is entirely possible that another club will be willing to give Martinez a four year contract, while the Tigers will be reluctant to go that long for their 36 year old all star DH. The Chicago White Sox are among the several teams who would like to steal Martinez away from Detroit. Losing Martinez would be painful enough, but losing him to a division rival would be an even tougher gut punch.

Should the Tigers lose Martinez and his .409 on base percentage, his 30 home runs, and 100 RBI’s from the lineup, they would not be able to replace his production, at least with any single player whom they might be able to add to the roster. Even with an expected drop in production from Martinez next season, his loss would be a crushing blow to the team’s hopes of winning a fifth consecutive division title, let alone the World Championship that has eluded them for the past 30 years.

What would the Tigers do without Victor Martinez? Well, first there would be a panic among the Tiger diaspora, the likes of which has not been heard for some time. The most recent blow of that magnitude was probably the day in January, 2012, when it was revealed that Martinez would be lost for the season. After the dust has settled, the club would go about the business of trying to put together a lineup.

There are others who can fill in as designated hitter, including Torii Hunter, who has shown that he should no longer be playing the outfield on a regular basis. He could very likely be signed to a one year contract for something in the range of $ 10 million. Hunter hit a respectable .286 .319 .446 for the Tigers last season, but that is still some 50 points in average, 90 points in on base percentage, plus 15 homers and 20 RBI less than Martinez.

Should the Tigers sign Martinez, it is unlikely they will bring Hunter back, but if Martinez leaves, there could be an opening for Hunter. Should Detroit lose both players, they have some serious work to do in order to fill the giant gaps in the lineup. Having made a qualifying offer of one year, $ 15.3 million to Martinez, the Tigers would gain a late first round draft pick next June should he sign with another club. But that pick could be a Nick Castellanos or a Ryan Perry.

The Tigers might opt for a player such as Adam LaRoche, a left handed first baseman who has put together a few decent seasons with the Washington Nationals. LaRoche has not hit for average, but gets on base and has some power from the left side of the plate. He posted a line of .259    .362    .455    with a wOBA of .365 for the Nats in 2014, and has a track record of getting on base, with at least 20 home runs in each of the past three seasons, belting 26 homers with 92 RBI last summer. He could alternate between first base and DH, giving Miguel Cabrera some time off his feet every few games. The Nationals declined a $ 15 million option on LaRoche, opting to pay a $ 2 million buyout instead, with a view to moving Ryan Zimmerman to first base on a full time basis.

Orioles’ outfielder Nelson Cruz is available, and would supply some much welcome power, after leading the league with 40 home runs. Cruz posted a wOBA of .370 which ranked fourth among AL outfielders. Melky Cabrera of the Toronto Blue Jays is a switch hitting corner outfielder who hit over .300 with a wOBA of .354. Both players have been suspended for substance abuse in the same scandal that felled the Tigers’ Jhonny Peralta, and both figure to receive a qualifying offer, meaning that the Tigers would have to give up their own first round draft pick to sign them, although they would be gaining a pick if Martinez signs with another club.

The Tigers might go another route and sign Nori Aoki away from the Kansas City Royals. Aoki has been an on base producer, with an OBP of .349 to .356 in each of the past few seasons. He hits for a decent average with no power, just one home run for the 2014 season. He would fill a spot near the top of the batting order. Aoki is a decent outfielder, certainly an upgrade over Hunter, but is not a center fielder. A better idea would be to have a player like Aoki replacing Hunter in right field, while keeping Martinez.

Another approach might be to bring in a third baseman such as Chase Headley or Pablo Sandoval, moving Nick Castellanos back to the outfield. Castellanos struggled defensively at the hot corner in his rookie season, which was to be expected having not played the position for a season and a half, although he figures to improve at least somewhat with time. He will never have the range of even an average third baseman, but there is no guarantee that he’d be passable in an outfield role, so the expected defensive upgrade by replacing Hunter in the outfield may not happen in that scenario.  Sandoval would also cost a first round draft pick, but Headley will not.

There are always trades to be made, or some combination of the above strategies. We’ve learned to expect the unexpected every winter in recent years. The preferred solution for the Tigers, of course, would be to sign Martinez, acquire a corner outfielder or center fielder who can get on base and fill a spot near the top of the order, and pick up a left handed hitting outfielder to platoon with Rajai Davis. That’s plan A. If that doesn’t work, each of the other options presents it’s own set of problems.