Victor Martinez has been a fixture in the Detroit Tigers’ lineup for the past six seasons. Overall, he has been one of the most productive hitters, posting a batting average of .296, an on base percentage of .357, with 107 home runs and 487 RBIs. He has a similar slash line over his 15 year major league career, which includes seven seasons with the Cleveland Indians and two with the Boston Red Sox.
Presently, the numbers tell a different story. Martinez — who is now 38 years old — is heading into the final year of a four year contract with the Tigers that pays him $18 million per season, posted numbers for the 2017 season that graded him below replacement level for the second time in three seasons, according to Baseball Reference.
Following a career season in 2014 in which he finished second to Mike Trout in the voting for the American League MVP, Martinez signed a four year contract worth $72 million. The Tigers knew at the time the contract would become an albatross before it had time to expire. Martinez broke with protocol by going directly to owner Mike Ilitch, bypassing his agent and General Manager Dave Dombrowski, and made an emotional plea to remain in Detroit. Ilitch agreed, and the rest is history. Almost.
Since signing his contract extension, Martinez has posted 2.3 wins below replacement level, according to Fangraphs. Only two players — Pablo Sandoval and Mike Aviles — have been worse. He is the only designated hitter to post a wRC+ below 100. He’s a designated hitter who has stopped hitting. He is also the league’s worst base runner during that time frame.
Martinez finished the 2017 season on the disabled list due to an irregular heartbeat. Apparently only a stay on the disabled list could prevent manager Brad Ausmus from penciling him into the lineup every day. The heart trouble sprung up twice during the season, putting him out of action both times. He has yet to be cleared by his doctors for baseball activities.
Martinez wants to play baseball. He wants to put his medical issues behind him and show up to spring training ready to play. Medically, that is not a certainty. But the Tigers should not wait to find out. The club should settle the issue forthwith by releasing Martinez at the end of the season. Just cut bait and move on.
The best case for Martinez, from a baseball standpoint, is that he returns healthy and regains his form in the batter’s box. He is one season removed from batting .289 with a .351 on base percentage, with 27 home runs and 86 RBI in 2016. That is a valuable player in any lineup. But at this stage of his career, he would still be strictly a designated hitter, bringing no value defensively and a liability on the bases when he does reach base.
More to the point, the Tigers are just beginning a rebuilding phase where they are stocking up on younger, more athletic players who might fit into their plans as they push to regain status as a contender in the American League. Victor Martinez is not in those plans.
If Martinez could be counted on as something of a mentor for the younger players, he would have some intangible value that doesn’t show up in the box scored. According to recent reports, that has not been the case. Anthony Fenech reported in the Detroit Free Press:
“...according to those inside the Tigers clubhouse, the 38-year-old designated hitter became an entitled player and a clubhouse problem whose positive influence diminished as his performance declined.”
So the Tigers have designated hitter who will be 39 in December, who doesn’t hit, doesn’t field, and doesn’t run. Even if he is healthy by spring, he does not fit into the team’s plans for the future, and he is no benefit to younger players by his presence in the clubhouse. We all wish Victor the best with his heart issues and hope he has a speedy recovery.
$18 million is a tough pill to swallow, but that’s money spent. For the good of the team and it’s future, it’s time to move on.