The Tigers motto has been and should continue to be, “it’s too late to think about the future.” With that in mind, there’s really no reason for them not to re-sign Victor Martinez at four years and $68 million. They need him, he needs them, and it’s been a very happy marriage to date. It’s not a bargain contract or something that will win Dombrowski any sort of executive of the year honors, but it’s necessary and it’s done on November 12.
Martinez had his best offensive season this past year (166 wRC+) and projects to have a very good year in 2015 (136 wRC+). He was worth 4.4 fWAR this year and is in line for 2.4 WAR according to Steamer in 2015. At the most basic level, the Tigers probably bought 7-8 WAR for $68 million. That’s probably $15 million to $20 million more than you want to spend, but if he’s a little better than expected (~10 WAR) you’re in the black. On a very basic level, it’s close enough that you don’t really need to worry and you’re only going to really notice in 2018. And let’s face it, the payroll in 2018 might be post-apocalyptic.
This gives the Tigers a chance to win in 2015 and there weren’t really any other options in the short run. The 2015 wins matter a lot more than the wasted money three years later. The Astros or the Cubs shouldn’t make this deal but the Tigers are positioned to make this kind of offer, especially considering they lose a less valuable draft pick by re-signing him than other teams would by signing him.
They need the offensive production, he’s well regarded in the clubhouse, and he’s already acclimated to DHing, which is no small thing. He’s 36, but he’s also bottomed out on defense and on the bases. You are expecting the worst from those and still like him overall, so if his bat can match or beat his projection (which will occur 50% of the time), then you’re probably not too upset. While he hit for power this year, you also have to acknowledge his excellent contact skills, which should keep him from flaming out as he ages as well.
I wrote last offseason when the Tigers signed Cabrera to a contact that was too large, that the only reason to hate bad contracts for stars is if it prevents the team from doing something else that would lead to additional wins.
Well, we’re already over that bridge. There’s no way to mirror VMart for less money right now and Cabrera and Verlander are already eating up the long term. Either Illitch is going to shovel money into the engine or he’s not, but a couple extra million to Martinez won’t dramatically change the bottom line.
There’s really only one significant concern. I’m not bothered by the club risking $15-20 million. That’s the cost of doing business and they’re clearly going to run a very high payroll. The only concern is that this effectively commits Miguel Cabrera to 1B and blocks his move to DH. Maybe that won’t matter but as he ages, it becomes a more pressing question. Fortunately, that’s a question for the 2017 Tigers and we’ve already doomed them to fail.
If the team doesn’t want to rebuild, there’s really no path out of this offseason that doesn’t involve Martinez. He’s necessary and while he’s expensive, he’s not going to realistically alter the trajectory of the franchise’s finances.
They’ve made the choice to go for it before the chandeliers fall. This is what it looks like to go for it. There’s more work to be done, but this is the first step toward another October chase.