The Detroit Tigers currently have competing interests in play as the Winter Meetings draw near. The club shows no sign of giving up on the AL Central in 2017, yet they are under a mandate to lower their payroll to a manageable level. The second part is easy. The Tigers could move several stars for modest returns and completely reset the payroll. However, without Ian Kinsler or Justin Verlander, it’s difficult to argue that the Tigers will be a real factor next season.
Here’s an ideal solution: Move Victor Martinez and the $36 million he’s owed in 2017-2018! A new report from Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe suggests that teams are “sniffing” around Martinez, trying to get a sense of the Tigers’ interest in trading him. While no teams are mentioned, the report does at least jive with news earlier this month that the Toronto Blue Jays and Boston Red Sox were inquiring about the veteran DH. However, without any further details, this all starts to feel like a game of rumor telephone.
The problem, of course, is that teams may check into anything this time of year, regardless of how far-fetched a move may appear. Information gathering is different from legitimate trade talks. There’s also the likelihood that these reports are just faint echoes of each other. Cafardo isn’t exactly renowned for having great insider information. Without real smoke, the idea of the Tigers escaping Martinez’s contract continues to seem like a pipe dream.
As a hitter, Martinez does fit Boston’s — and potentially the Rangers or Yankees — need for a DH. Martinez is highly regarded in Boston, and with former Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski now running the show there, that reunion seems plausible. The talented young lineups in Boston or New York could no doubt benefit from Martinez’s mental toughness and veteran leadership.
However, such a move would solve the Tigers’ problems so neatly that it feels far too good to be true. Martinez was reasonably productive in 2016, posting a 120 wRC+ over 610 plate appearances. He continues to hit for enough power to be a plus in a lineup, despite rating as one of the worst base runners in the game the past two seasons. A move back to the AL East would likely be good for him. However the specter of his disastrous 2015 campaign and multiple knee injuries looms over all future projections.
If the Tigers could move all, or even most of Martinez’s money off the books, they would take a big step toward their payroll goals without crippling their offense. They would also avoid another trap like they found themselves in 2015, where Martinez was just healthy enough to play but unable to justify his place in the lineup by his production. They would have the flexibility to use Miguel Cabrera or a corner outfielder in the designated hitter spot at times. This would help keep all parties fresh, and potentially allow them to put a stronger defensive unit on the field.
The biggest complication may be Martinez himself. Because his 10-and-5 rights have vested, Martinez can veto any trade. He could also ask for concessions from any interested club in return for waiving his rights. As of yet, we’ve heard nothing from Martinez’s agent, whereas Ian Kinsler’s was quick to insert his client’s interests into any discussions with the Dodgers. This is another sign that this “rumor” is likely just teams gathering more information.
Negotiations over the new collective bargaining agreement have put a damper on the wheeling and dealing so far around baseball. As a result, teams are positioning themselves to enable quick moves once the new collective bargaining agreement is ratified.
Perhaps, once the dam breaks and teams interested in a DH are frozen out on a few of the sluggers available in free agency, interest in Victor Martinez could turn more serious. At that point, general manager Al Avila would be wise to take any opportunity that allows him to move the majority of Martinez’s money off the payroll. But until we see a few teams with money to burn miss out on their first choice, this is more false hope than credible rumor.