Mensching: It’s too early to give up on Victor Martinez

Kurt Mensching
Special to The Detroit News

Victor Martinez is 36. Victor Martinez is in the midst of his worst season as a professional baseball player. Victor Martinez is owed $54 million over the next three years. This seems like a problem for the Tigers.

Whether it actually turns out to be one remains to be seen. Martinez is a litmus test for your optimism.

Just a season ago he had arguably his best year. He batted .335, got on base more than 40 percent of the time, hit 32 home runs and drove in 103 runs.

His wOBA (weighted on-base average) of .411 ranked first in the American League and second overall last year.

That in his second season after missing the entirety of 2012 with a left knee injury.

You can see why the Tigers threw caution to the wind and rewarded Martinez for his effort, leadership and loyalty. He appeared to find the fountain of youth.

And then, just like in 2012, Martinez suffered another knee injury during the offseason, feeling a pop in the same left knee as the earlier injury while playing catch with his brother in early February. He again underwent surgery, but rather than losing the season he only lost a few weeks of preparation.

Martinez, though, may have come back too soon, never looked like himself, and lost a month to the disabled list beginning in late May.

At the time he was batting .216, but between his June 19 return and the All-Star break, Martinez looked like he’d regained his old form, batting .337 with four home runs and nine doubles in 22 games.

Since the All-Star break though, he’s hit miserably. For the second half he’s batting .191, bringing his season average to .234. He gets on base at a career-worst .291 clip in 2015 with no power to be found.

His .275 wOBA is the worst of his career and ranks 13th worst among batters with at least 400 plate appearances this season.

An optimist would point out we’ve seen this all before and it worked out just fine for Martinez and Detroit. Give him an offseason to rest and recover and expect a rejuvenated Martinez to return next year with something to prove.

A pessimist would declare Martinez finished. He’ll be 37 next year. He’s injured the same knee repeatedly. Martinez clearly isn’t right. His swing is a little slower. He’s aging. It’s not hard to imagine the worst.

A self-proclaimed realist doesn’t know what to expect.

It seems impossible to construct a scenario in which Martinez is actually worth the $18 million a year he’s owed for his age 37, 38 and 39 seasons — money that the team could have better spent shoring up myriad issues on the pitching staff and elsewhere. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility for Martinez to come back a productive switch-hitting batter, landing somewhere between his 2014 and 2015 seasons.

Asking him to duplicate a career year would be a mistake, but expecting him to continue playing as bad as he’s been for most of this season isn’t realistic, either.

There will come a point during this contract where Martinez clearly is done. Expecting it in 2016 just seems a bit premature.

The Tigers will undoubtedly regret handing out such a large contract to Martinez this past offseason, but history teaches us to give Martinez another chance before completely writing him off.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at bybtigers@gmail.com.