Tigers, V-Mart agree to terms on 4-year deal
The Tigers made it clear from season’s end that their priority was to re-sign Victor Martinez. It didn’t take them long to take care of it, though it took a longer-term deal to get it done.
And with an agreement in terms on a four-year contract, Martinez is likely to finish his career in a Tigers uniform. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported the deal to be worth $68 million. The deal is pending a physical, MLB.com has learned.
Martinez ranked among the top hitters on the free-agent market, but he made little secret at season’s end that his preference was to stay in Detroit, where he has spent the past four years. Likewise, the Tigers wanted to keep Martinez after his MVP-caliber season bolstered a lineup on the heels of Prince Fielder’s trade to Texas.
The one major sticking point from the outset, according to sources, was Martinez’s insistence on a four-year deal. The Tigers were believed to prefer three years, potentially with a vesting option for a fourth. A few days of face-to-face talks at the GM Meetings apparently bridged the gap. While Martinez’s agents at Octagon talked with other teams within the confines of the Arizona Biltmore hotel, they also talked with Dombrowski, who confirmed the talks Tuesday.
A four-year worth $17 million per year would make Martinez the highest-paid full-time designated hitter in baseball history, surpassing Red Sox slugger David Ortiz. Alex Rodriguez, of course, would obliterate that standard if he were to become the Yankees’ full-time DH.
For the Tigers, meanwhile, Martinez joins Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler and Anibal Sanchez with guaranteed contracts through at least 2017. The quintet would make $103.8 million combined in 2016, and $100.8 million the following season. For the Tigers, however, the short-term risk of losing Martinez was greater.
Martinez had no shortage of leverage coming off the best season of his career. Not only did Martinez post career-best numbers at age 35, he put up the kind of numbers few 35-year-olds have. His .335 average fell just short of what would have been his first batting title, but his .974 OPS led the Majors, while his .409 on-base percentage led the AL.
With 33 doubles, 32 home runs, 103 RBIs and a 70-to-42 walk-to-strikeout ratio, Martinez made a strong case as the toughest hitter in the game this season.
Martinez became the first Major Leaguer since Albert Pujols in 2006 to hit 30 or more home runs in a season while striking out 50 times or less. At age 35, he became the oldest hitter to post his first 30-homer season since Edgar Martinez did it at age 37 in 2000.
That production was vital for the Tigers, who traded Fielder last fall yet maintained their offensive production. Martinez moved up to the cleanup spot behind Miguel Cabrera and gave Detroit the run producer it desperately needed behind their two-time MVP.
To expect four more years of those numbers isn’t realistic, especially on a deal that would carry Martinez through his age-39 season. Even without a repeat of that power, however, Martinez’s approach at the plate is expected to keep him productive.
With Martinez as their designated hitter for four more years, the Tigers are now committed to Cabrera as their first baseman for at least that long. Cabrera is currently recuperating from offseason surgery to remove a bone spur in his ankle and repair a stress fracture in his foot, his second consecutive offseason surgery.
Fellow free agent Torii Hunter, however, could well now be headed elsewhere. The Tigers have had limited contact with Hunter’s representatives, preferring to wait on Martinez’s situation. With Martinez in the fold and the DH spot filled, however, the Tigers appear ready to move on. Detroit’s focus will now turn to center field, where they’re expected to try to trade for a young, long-term solution rather than tap a thin free-agent market.