Some days it just doesn’t pay to answer the phone. The Detroit Tigers would have been better off in denial as opposed to hearing about Victor Martinez‘s left knee injury. Team officials would have enjoyed sitting around the office a couple of extra days smiling and congratulating themselves about running a team that could run away with the American League Central Division.
The Tigers have labored long and intelligently to build a winning team that can reach the World Series and Martinz was a key piece of the equation. This is one of those injuries–during an off-season workout–when executives might well look skyward and shake their fists at the gods.
Martinez wasn’t riding a motorcyle on a rainy night. He wasn’t out at a bar in the middle of the night slipping on stale beer on the floor. He was preparing for the 2012 season, doing the right thing,working out, and it bit him.
Martinez tore his anterior cruciate ligament and the prognosis is that almost certainly he will be out for the year. The Tigers–like most teams–aren’t built to withstand that kind of blow. Nobody has the depth on hand readymade to step in for a .330 hitter. Beyond that there is a shortage of catching depth worldwide. This is a loss that will hurt.
Victor Martinez was a huge pickup for Detroit last year after leaving the Red Sox in free agency. The Tigers won 96 games and their division crown. The Red Sox did not make the playoffs. It can be argued that Martinez’s switch seriously impacted both results.
Martinez also drove in 103 runs as the Tigers ran away with the division, winning by a margin of 15 games. Martinez was a luxury purchase. There were not a half dozen Martinez-like players on the shelf just waiting to be distributed. The Tigers invested $50 million on a four-year contract for Martinez, so he didn’t come cheap, either. More than that if he is grounded completely for the season his high rate of pay hinders the Tigers’ ability to find another quality player to replace him. How much can they afford?
The Tigers may best benefit from finding a rent-a-player, someone who is nearing the end of his career, who might have a little bit left in the tank, who would just like to take one more run with a team good enough to reach the playoffs and just maybe a World Series. What’s Ivan Rodriguez doing? What are your summer plans Jorge Posada? Can you still DH for a few games, Yogi Berra? Just throwing things against the wall and seeing if they stick.
The three players who carried the Tigers last season were Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, who won the American League batting title, and Justin Verlander, who not only won the Cy Young award (and MVP, too), but might as well have been Cy Young.
We already know Martinez can’t repeat his success. Can Cabrera and Verlander? Martinez’s absence will make it easier for teams to pitch around Cabrera and not many pitchers have repeated the type of season Verlander posted back-to-back.
Still, Verlander could go 20-9, Cabrera could still crack .300, and the Tigers might come up with a surprising replacement for Martinez. But the best thing the Tigers might have going for them is playing in a division where all other teams’ prospects, the Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Minnesota Twins and Kansas Royals, have more roster questions than they do.
No doubt the loss of Martinez jeopardizes the Tigers’ stranglehold on the division title and allows a Minnesota or Cleveland to believe they can be hand.