Source: Victor Martinez, Tigers agree on four-year deal

By Tom Gage and Tony Paul, The Detroit News

Dave Dombrowski said re-signing Victor Martinez was the Tigers’ top offseason priority.

Detroit — It had to happen.

Keeping Victor Martinez, after he filed for free agency, was more than a priority for the Tigers, it was a must.

An absolute must.

That's how the team viewed it. And that's why the deal is done. Or at least as close to being done as it can be without an announcement from the Tigers.

First things first, though. Because he was a free agent and no longer Tigers property, Martinez must undergo a physical before the contract is complete.

So while the reports of it happening can be traced to a Detroit News source as well as to two of the industry's most trustworthy insiders,'s Ken Rosenthal and's Jon Heyman, both of whom are at the general managers' meetings in Phoenix, it's not quite official.

But it certainly looks like it will be because the Tigers were determined not to let the leader of their team slip away.

And that's what Martinez is the captain, if the Tigers were to have one.

A leader on the field, but off it as well.

A player who steps up to all his responsibilities.

The story of Martinez coming back broke late Wednesday with Rosenthal's tweet that the Tigers were close to signing him to a four-year contract.

Heyman reported soon after that the contract was for four years at a total of $68 million — an average of $17 million per season.

That would mean the Tigers will be paying $109 million to the six highest-paid players already under contract for 2015: Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler, Anibal Sanchez and Joe Nathan.

That figure is higher than their entire 2011 payroll, and doesn't include the lucrative salaries pitchers David Price and Rick Porcello are in line for.

According to MLB Trade Rumors' projected arbitration salaries for 2015, Price will make $18.9 million and Porcello will earn $12.2 million — another $31.1 million. That will hike the payroll to slightly more than $140 million for eight players.

And to more than $155 million if you add Joakim Soria, Rajai Davis and Alex Avila. That's higher than the team's entire 2013 payroll.

So is there room for Max Scherzer, as well?

Not unless owner Mike Ilitch has bottomless pockets.

That the signing of Martinez almost certainly served as the final wave of the Tigers hand to a departing Scherzer is almost as clear now as was the inescapable necessity of keeping Martinez.

If the Tigers were going to look at all in 2015 like the Tigers they've been, and like the contenders they've been, the middle of their lineup — meaning Cabrera and Martinez — had to return intact.

"It's great," Tigers catcher Alex Avila said. "Can't think of anyone better to hit behind Miggy and in the middle of our lineup."

Cabrera's contributions need no explanation. Many consider him the best hitter in major league baseball.

A perennial candidate for the award, Cabrera is not a finalist for the American League's MVP this year.

But Martinez is one of three finalists for the award that will be announced tonight, and just being among the top three, as being a finalist guarantees he will be, is a fitting tribute to the productive season he had.

"Victor's value to the 2014 Tigers was nearly immeasurable," manager Brad Ausmus said in a text. "He protected Miggy as well as anybody in baseball could have, and his passion/work ethic is unsurpassed."

Martinez finished second in the AL batting race behind Astros phenom Jose Altuve with a .335 average, but led the league with a .409 on-base percentage and a .974 OPS (on-base plus slugging).

So, his return was a priority, as general manager Dave Dombrowski said, but the Tigers have other items on their must-do list — which Dombrowski outlined after the season ended.

"Three things would really kind of fit for us," he said at the time. "In no particular order, one is solidifying our center-field situation — either a left-hand hitter to go with Rajai (Davis) or someone to be a full-time center fielder.

"Secondly, our bullpen needs to be improved. Some of that can be internal (a reference to Bruce Rondon returning healthy).

"And, thirdly, I'd like to mix another left-handed hitter in there somewhere, but I don't have a specific answer at this time where that person would play. It might be a guy off the bench who could be an offensive threat."

Item No. 1, though, is done.

With the numbers Martinez put up, there was little doubt the Tigers would want him back, and now it appears there's little doubt he will be.