Tigers take wait-and-see approach on Victor Martinez

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Tigers' Victor Martinez

Detroit — Victor Martinez is on the road to recovery, but whether that means he's on track for a 16th season in Major League Baseball remains to be seen.

The Tigers designated hitter had two bouts with an irregular heartbeat in 2017, the latter shutting him down for the season as he underwent a corrective procedure that has, basically, laid him up since he went under the knife in early September.

Tigers general manager Al Avila said Friday he spoke with Martinez before he went home to Florida for the offseason.

"And Victor said that he's 100-percent committed to getting himself back in shape," Avila said. "He told me he's committed to coming back to spring training ready to go and have a really strong, productive season. That's all I can go on."

There will be further checkups for Martinez, 38, who is entering the final year of a four-year, $68-million contract.

And the Tigers realize there's a possibility he might not be medically cleared to continue his career, spent mostly with the Tigers and Cleveland Indians.
"Well, that's a possibility," Avila said. "Until we get there, I couldn't tell you anything.

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"From what we know is that right now, he's recovered from that 100 percent. It's all about, now, doing physical exercise to get himself back into major league-ready game shape.

"Once he gets into spring training, then we'll see how far the health can continue."

Martinez batted .255/.324/.372 with 10 home runs and 47 RBIs in 107 games in 2017.

Other highlights from Avila's briefing with reporters following the introduction of Ron Gardenhire as the team's next manager:

■ Gardenhire said he has no timeline for filling out his coaching staff, though he did seem to shoot down the possibility of one recently floated name: popular former Twins and Tigers outfielder Torii Hunter, now a TV analyst in Minnesota. "I don't know if he wants to be in this kind of uniform out on the field (tugging his Tigers jersey) or in this kind of uniform (tugging on a reporter's sport coat) up there with the general manager," Gardenhire said. "I think Torii likes the suit." Gardenhire had a lot of staff stability in Minnesota and expects to talk to some of his former coaches with the Twins — "I have to see if they want to get out of their RVs," he said — but noted his hirings won't be "buddy-buddy."

■ Gardenhire’s name has been linked to the Tigers before, most notably in 2015, after Avila took over for Dave Dombrowski as general manager. There were rumblings he was prepared to fire Brad Ausmus and go with Gardenhire. Asked about that Friday, Avila let out a nervous laugh. “That’s a fair question. At this point, quite frankly, I’m not gonna look back,” he said. “I’m not gonna get into that.”

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■ No surprise at all, but Avila confirmed that veteran starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez will have his club option — $16 million — declined, and the Tigers will pay the $5-million buyout. He's battled health and the home-run ball the last four seasons, and is a shell of the pitcher who led the league in ERA in 2013. There remains a possibility that the Tigers could work out a cheap deal for him to return and help eat some innings, but he just listed his Metro Detroit home, so that's a stretch.

■ Avila said he expects Michael Fulmer (September elbow surgery) to be "100-percent healthy when he comes back in spring training. So far the rehab's been great, we don't expect any setbacks." Fulmer, the 2016 AL rookie of the year, will be the ace of a staff that also expects big leaps forward from Daniel Norris and Matt Boyd, Avila said. Avila also said he's hopeful Jordan Zimmermann, who's battled neck injuries the last two years, will benefit from a new offseason conditioning program.

■ Some numbers of note: Avila said he started the managerial search with a list of 47 names, cut it down to 12, and interviewed 10. Gardenhire got the final interview, Tuesday at Comerica Park. ... Gardenhire will wear No. 15, worn by Brandon Inge from 2003-12 and by Mikie Mahtook in 2017.

■ With so many trades last summer, the Tigers are looking for players to step into leadership roles. Avila specifically cited Nick Castellanos, James McCann and Mahtook as candidates for the role.