DETROIT — Spring training is roughly two weeks away. The Detroit Tigers' roster has been 'set' and all that's left to do is pack up and head south. Except everything isn't wrapped in a neat bow because the offseason injury bug tore apart the wrapping and kicked the present off the cliff. With Victor Martinez out for four-to-six weeks at a minimum for a torn left medial meniscus, things are no longer looking as solid as they once were two days ago.
With Torii Hunter a far-gone thought, the Tigers' new leftfielder Yoenis Cespedes is even more critically important to the team's success now that Martinez is out of action. Detroit might begin the regular season without its two best hitters. If Miguel Cabrera is not fully recovered and Martinez needs more surgery than anticipated, the season will get complicated.
On Tuesday afternoon, Tigers President and GM Dave Dombrowski reiterated the team was fine going into spring training with the pieces they had. That same day, however, Dombrowski found out his designated hitter had been injured during his offseason workout. After an MRI on Wednesday it was determined Martinez would need surgery on the same left knee as in 2012, although this injury is supposedly less severe.
"We're basically set, but it's not like you don't take a phone call or know what else is going on out there, so anything can happen," Dombrowski said at the time. "But we're basically set with what we're trying to pursue, and if we go to camp this way, we're content."
The Tigers could go out and pick up a low-cost player externally, but Dombrowski said at this point the team will still head to spring training with the roster they have. In this case, however, the Tigers aren't as limited with their options to substitute someone as the team's designated hitter as they were with Cabrera at first base. If the Tigers only need to fill in for Martinez during spring training, the concern is low, but anything that extends past April 6 could change the outcome.
Victor Martinez tears meniscus, will have surgery
Martinez will undergo surgery with Dr. James Andrews next week.
If an injury like this had happened in the middle of the season with Cabrera sidelined at the same time, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus would have had to juggle far more than what players will share a position for a few weeks. The timing creates a messy schedule, but at least the Tigers can afford to take apart at their situation from several angles. It also allows them to prepare for the long haul if either (or both) Cabrera or Martinez aren't healthy to play when the season starts.
The Tigers have to wait until after Martinez's surgery on Tuesday to have a definite timeline to work with. Cabrera also has a follow-up visit with Dr. Robert Anderson on February 15 about whether he will be cleared for any or all baseball activities. Questions regarding the situation of the team will not be able to be fully answered until both of those visits occur. For now, the Tigers and fans are forced to play a waiting game, one that no one wants to play.
Optimistically the Tigers and fans are going to hope to see Martinez back on the field in four-to-six weeks. As we've seen before, however, events don't typically play out that way with the Tigers as was the case with Cabrera, Bruce Rondon, and Jose Iglesias. It would help the situation significantly if Cabrera is cleared for baseball activities in some way and the Tigers at least had him available for Opening Day.
If the latter is the case, even if Martinez misses the first week (or more) of the regular season, the Tigers can simply DH Cabrera and have any number of players take over at first base, including Alex Avila, Andrew Romine (who Ausmus has said is a possibility), and Jordan Lennerton. At this point, all anyone can do is estimate and hope for the best. Until next week there are going to be far more questions than answers.
With all that, the Tigers have also been cautious with their optimism of Rondon of late, who has been positioned to take over the seventh inning role despite being less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery. While they still feel that the young reliever will bounce back with no issues, Dombrowski stated that the young reliever has a tendency to want to showcase his full abilities (in the form of a 101 mile-per-hour pitch) from day one, and it's something they'll need to keep an eye on.
In addition to determining who covers first base and DH, Ausmus will be focusing on the starting catching position, specifically, how the playing time will be shared and who will share it. Center field will also be an area that the Tigers will concentrate on to some degree. How much playing time Rajai Davis receives will depend largely on the performance of Anthony Gose, both defensively and offensively.
The team buses will depart for Lakeland next week and much of the following events will depend largely on Martinez. Regardless of the outcome though, it wouldn't be the first time the Tigers have entered spring training facing questions and they'll likely do it again. Not that it makes the situation any more pleasant, because it doesn't.