Tigers would have been hurting without J.D. Martinez

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Detroit – Dave Dombrowski doesn't allow himself to sit around and wonder, gee, where would the Tigers be without J.D. Martinez.

"Not really too much," the Tigers president and GM said Sunday afternoon, amid the clubhouse hoopla, celebrating a fourth consecutive American League Central championship. "Because you're always thinking, if you didn't have him, what else would you do to replace him.

"That's what it really comes down to."

Fair enough. But it also comes down to this: The Tigers lost a ton of offense last offseason, from Prince Fielder to Jhonny Peralta to Omar Infante.

Ian Kinsler always was going to account for some of the void, and Nick Castellanos, and Rajai Davis, too, albeit to a lesser extent.

But there are tremendous weak spots in that Tigers lineup, particularly in the bottom third, so while Dombrowski might not concern himself with life without J.D., Tigers fans, well, they shudder.

In 123 games, Martinez hit .315 with 23 homers and 76 RBIs, all while posting an unbelievable OPS of .912 – which would've been tops in the American League, had he had the at-bats to qualify.

Best part, from Mike Ilitch's perspective: Martinez made $23.5 million less than Fielder was to earn this year, before his trade to Texas last offseason – making Martinez arguably the best value in the game in 2014.

Martinez, 27, isn't one to talk about how great he's been. But he's plenty open to talking about how great it's been to be with the Tigers – and he can thank the Astros for that. Right before Opening Day, Houston, stunningly, cut him, allowing Detroit to scoop him up for nothing, just months after Tigers brass actually had inquired about trading with the Astros to get him.

So you can understand if this is all a bit surreal for Martinez, who played three years in the majors with the Astros, who this spring loss interest – and had little faith his swing changes would amount to anything.

"To play the role that I have," said Martinez, his Oakley goggles dripping with champagne atop his head during Sunday's celebration, "I could never have guessed that."

Asked what he was doing last October, Martinez said he headed to California, and watched the playoffs on TV, before getting right back to work on his swing – which he retooled after poring over tons of clips of some of the game's best right-handed hitters, Miguel Cabrera included.

He had very little downtime. He played winter ball in Venezuela. And he was excited to get to camp with the Astros. But the feeling wasn't exactly reciprocated. So Martinez and the Astros parted company, the Tigers called – assistant GM Al Avila always has been a huge admirer – and a deal was done. Martinez started the season in Toledo. He could end the season in a World Series parade.

"No shot," Martinez said when asked if he could've envisioned this just 12 months ago. "I would've said you were crazy."

Instead, it was the Astros who come off looking loony for letting this guy get away.

Martinez, if you can believe it, is likely to receive some down-ballot Most Valuable Player votes.

If not for the year Victor Martinez has had, J.D. Martinez might actually be the leading Tiger of the Year candidate.

All this for a right-handed hitter who almost wasn't even called up until late April, after he was on some other-worldly tear in Toledo. With Tyler Collins not playing much, and struggling when he did play, some of the Tigers brass wanted another left-handed hitter to replace him, so they strongly considered Ezequiel Carrera. But eventually, they all agreed on Martinez.

Good call. For the year, Detroit and Toledo included, he had 33 homers and 98 RBIs in 140 games. Most of the damage, of course, was with Detroit, and so many of his big hits came in huge, late-inning situations. It's certainly not a stretch to say he more than accounted for the one game by which the Tigers won the AL Central.

"You really want 3-4-5 guys that can drive in runs and knock the ball out of the ballpark," Dombrowski said of Martinez, who spent the year hitting behind Cabrera and Victor Martinez. "He's added that for us."

Family issues

Tigers reliever Joba Chamberlain had a fantastic first half, making that one-year, $2.5-million contract look like a steal.

The second half, though, has been a struggle.

Dombrowski shed some light on that.

"Joba's had some issues family-wise," Dombrowski said. "His mom's been very sick. People don't realize how that has affect him at times.

"She's doing a little better, and he's throwing the ball better."

No worries over boos

It was a nervous regular season for the Tigers – and their fans, many of whom let the boos fly at times.

Dombrowski said that doesn't really bother him.

"I've had people boo me plenty of times," he said. "I've got some guy that boos me every night when I walk up the stairwell.

"Bill Veeck, when I first started, he said, 'I never mind to have my fans boo, because the ones that boo also cheer the loudest.'"

Around the horn

Victor Martinez has been announced as the Tigers candidate for the Hank Aaron Award, given to the most outstanding offensive performer in each league. Cabrera won it the past two years. The winner will be announced during the World Series.

… TBS analyst Pedro Martinez on the Tigers offense: "When you're the opposing pitcher, you probably have a headache because you don't know which way you're going to approach that lineup."

… Toledo first baseman Jordan Lennerton won a second straight minor-league Gold Glove, after posting a 1.000 fielding percentage.

… FSD will host a playoff preview at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, and will do a one-hour postgame show following every playoff game.

... Battle Creek's Scott Barry will be part of the umpiring crew for the Tigers-Orioles series.