April 16, 2014 at 1:00 am

Lynn Henning

Free-agency questions loom for Tigers

Victor Martinez, who turns 36 in December, has not lost his switch-hitting skills. He can also play first base and catch. (Robin Buckson / Detroit News)

Running a baseball team is such fun. About the time you sign one superstar (Miguel Cabrera) for $292 million and miss on another (Max Scherzer) after he spurned $144 million, you can get busy plotting how, or if, you keep other celebrities who are nearing that Nirvana known as free agency.

Consider the Tigers and a handful of luminaries who will reach free agency either this autumn or 18 months from now: Victor Martinez, Austin Jackson, Rick Porcello and Alex Avila, even if fans at the moment are not inclined to think of Avila and his batting woes as a matter for renewal.

Cabrera’s extension and Scherzer’s no-thanks proved status and agents can influence both a team’s desire to lock up a star player and that same player’s decision to look elsewhere.

Cabrera had obliging negotiators in Fernando Cuza and Diego Bentz. They were open to an extension sealed last month when Cabrera signed for about one-half of Monaco’s gross national product.

Bidding in autumn

Scherzer’s agent, Scott Boras, avoids taking penthouse clients anywhere but to free agency, at least as long as the player is on board, and Scherzer might as well be Boras’ business twin. They are expected to entertain free-agent bids this autumn.

Torii Hunter, whose contract ceases at the end of this season, is technically open to the same consideration as the aforementioned Tigers, but he will soon be 39 and it remains doubtful the Tigers will choose to renew Hunter.

As for the others, their cases are very much individual:

Martinez: Some thought the Tigers were gambling badly in 2010 when they signed Martinez to a four-year, $50 million deal. Martinez has since been a hitter so essential to Detroit’s order that owner Mike Ilitch invested $214 million just to replace him after his knee blew apart in 2012.

Martinez turns 36 in December and could easily wheedle a two-year deal from the Tigers. His switch-hitting skills remain radiant. He can also play first base and catch when he isn’t working as a designated hitter. His agency, Octagon Sports, is not necessarily viewed as opposed to extensions. But another strong season from Martinez would bring luster to a free agent who seems not to be bothered by age.

The Tigers might want an in-season deal more than Martinez and Octagon.

Jackson: He is another thoroughbred from the Boras stable who is almost certain to salivate, along with his agent, at thoughts of autumn 2015. Jackson will then be 28. And unless his skills have somehow eroded or injuries have become an issue, he should be in line for some marvelous long-term money.

The Tigers, as appears to be their fate with Scherzer, will likely be left with a first-round draft pick as a thank-you card for allowing Jackson — and Boras — their particular dalliance with the free market.

Porcello: Porcello and the Hendricks Agency also qualify as possible extension candidates. The parties are known for embracing security when the hometown team and its money are right, and nothing suggests Porcello or his reps would be averse to a longer stint in Detroit.

The Tigers seemingly are interested. They otherwise would have been inclined to trade Porcello last offseason, when they instead shipped Doug Fister to the Nationals two years ahead of his free-agent freedom.

The age factor

Porcello is 25. That’s a good enough reason, beyond his durability, for the team to begin friendly talks with a young right-handed starter and his representatives.

Avila: It’s all up to a 27-year-old catcher. If he gets his bat on track, the Tigers will want him in Detroit well past 2015. If the bat continues to frustrate all parties, he will be allowed to try big-league life elsewhere while the Tigers shift to either James McCann or to another candidate who offers more consistency than Avila thus far has shown.


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