Victor Martinez soon will have heart surgery and is gone from the Tigers lineup, for the remainder of 2017. In a purely baseball sense, it’s difficult to see that a team will have missed him.
For these reasons.
Batting average: .255. On-base percentage: .324. Slugging percentage: 372. He has 10 home runs and a bench-player OPS of .697.
He was the team’s designated hitter, although we perhaps need to re-think that term as it applied to Martinez and the 2017 Tigers.
Picturing him as the Tigers’ DH in 2018 is a stretch, even if he has another year of pay coming to the tune of $18 million.
He turns 39 in December, and unless medical science figures out a way to reverse a baseball player’s aging process, Martinez next year isn’t likely to match, much less surpass, his 2017 digits. And that’s if — if — he’s part of next spring’s Florida auditions.
The Tigers can, and seemingly will, say goodbye at the end of this year, regardless of how his heart issues play into any final analysis.
A team understands realities here and how they are tied to earlier decisions. Among the fair-minded is Chris Ilitch, who became a family’s Tigers overseer when Mike Ilitch died in February.
It was Mike Ilitch who wanted to hold onto Martinez at whatever cost when V-Mart’s first Tigers contract expired at the end of 2014.
Martinez was a fan and owner favorite. The Tigers had no terrific options at DH, and Ilitch, as was his generous habit, told the front office to sign Martinez for whatever the market required.
To keep him from the mitts of another club, the Tigers needed to go big, and they went big, all to ensure he stuck in Detroit: Four years, $68 million.
It was a grand sum, although not overly outrageous given the times.
Left to his own discretion, Dave Dombrowski, who then was Tigers general manager, almost certainly would not have committed those years or dollars. It would have seemed to him and to his staff an indefensible package when Martinez was about to turn 36.
In the front office’s vision, there was destined to be a drop-off on a par with precisely what we have seen in Martinez’s waning years.
It is why, from the outset, Tigers brass believed if they could live with Martinez as DH for three of the four seasons, his contract, while always scary, would be acceptable to the man who authorized it.
The timeline has pretty much mirrored front-office projections and any analytics and actuarial charts that applied in 2014.
Ahead of his surgery and doctors' pronouncements, Martinez’s medical situation is uncertain. It might or might not have a bearing on how he factors into any 2018 roster decisions.
The big-picture consideration is Detroit’s lineup. You cannot live with lukewarm numbers at DH. It puts you in a match-up hole against every American League team.
The Tigers can do better, much better, than a .697 OPS at DH even if they go with existing personnel.
This is where the matter of Nicholas Castellanos becomes interesting and even more complex.
Castellanos is having a bit of a bumpy year, although it’s somewhat deceiving and in any case misleading.
He will hit, probably next season, in the .800-plus OPS range, as he did a year ago when he was 24. He’s almost there now, at a .761 OPS (entering Wednesday night’s game), with 20 home runs, 10 triples, and 25 doubles, even if his batting average, .253, is on the same plane as Martinez.
The Tigers have a plan in 2018 to either immediately or steadily replace Castellanos at third base with Jeimer Candelario, who was one of the Cubs trade-chips the Tigers lassoed in July’s Justin Wilson trade and who has impressed in his early Tigers cameos.
The Tigers, ideally, would prefer Candelario at third next spring, but can’t be sure he’ll be ready. Thus, Castellanos is insurance, even if his defense is too thin to qualify him as a long-term answer there.
The Tigers also are preparing this month to give Castellanos some game-day shifts in right field as they deal with a hole there after J.D. Martinez was shipped to Arizona.
Castellanos will have his defensive episodes in right, as well, although he and the Tigers can probably survive when it’s not clear right field would be a full-time option.
You can see how Castellanos might figure in next year’s Tigers DH sweepstakes. In fact, he looks like a lovely option, particularly if the Tigers go with more of a community approach there.
That’s where Castellanos, because of a certain hardcore flexibility, could be of optimal value to a team that won’t be averse to creative lineup ideas as this rebuilding project plays out.
He could be temporary, early protection at third. He could get time in right field. Or, he could be part of a DH consortium.
It’s possible, if not probable, the Tigers will add a player to the above mix. But in the event they don’t filch a pure right-fielder or potential full-time replacement for Martinez, Castellanos is an option, at least as the existing roster is considered.
And yet this isn’t primarily about Castellanos.
It’s about Martinez.
It is not V-Mart’s fault he was offered a contract that was a near certainty in its final stage to be a Tigers ball-and-chain.
Conversely, because a team in clear conscience decided to gamble on a bad-percentage deal doesn’t mean the bosses must live with it, beyond its financial obligations, which could be subject to some insurance compensation if heart issues cancel any shot at 2018.
The Tigers, it would seem, either way, will say thank you to Martinez at the end of 2017. They’ll shake his hand, salute him for his 2,000-plus career hits and for all he did as a splendid professional.
And, most likely, get on with plans for a new DH in 2018.