The Detroit Tigers officially announced the signing of free agent Victor Martinez on Friday. At least six teams showed interest in Martinez, according to his agent. But the chance to play for a team constantly trying to improve itself and provide an opportunity to win is what ultimately made the Tigers most appealing.
“I think the most important thing is that I can see how the Tigers try to improve the team each and every year. They just put a good team on the field every year — a competitive team.
“That was one of the reasons I wanted to come here. It just gives you a greater chance to win a championship. That’s something I’m really looking forward to."
The Tigers have had a strong Venezuelan contingent over the past few seasons with Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez, Carlos Guillen and Armando Galarraga. Cabrera, in particular, did all he could to bring another fellow Venezuelan into the fold with Martinez.
“Miguel, at the end of the season, knew we had some freedom to do some things. He said if he could do anything to help, don’t hesitate to ask,” [Tigers general manager Dave] Dombrowski said. “We asked if he would mind giving Victor a call,” said Dombrowski, “and he volunteered to do that. Plus he followed up with another call after we made an offer. He was aggressive in helping us.”
As rumors of the Tigers’ pursuit of Martinez gained steam, speculation began as to whether he would play primarily at catcher or designated hitter. That question was also answered during the introductory conference call. Martinez will bat mostly as the DH. And unlike Gary Sheffield in past seasons, he says he accepts that role.
“When I was with the Indians, I used to hit behind one of the best designated hitters in the game, Travis Hafner. I used to ask him, ‘How do you do it, how do you do it?’
“… there’s a lot of stuff to do when you’re not on the field and you’re playing the role of DH. You should watch the game, pay attention to the game. It’s definitely different, but I’m really looking forward to it.”
Despite tabbing Alex Avila as the Tigers’ No. 1 catcher next season, Dombrowski added that Martinez will still likely catch 2-3 days a week, perhaps 60 games a year.
But where will Martinez hit in Detroit’s batting order? The No. 5 spot seems most suitable, given that Martinez would provide switch-hitting protection for Cabrera. But that hasn’t been completely decided for a variety of reasons.
First, the Tigers aren’t done with their offseason shopping. Whichever corner outfielder Detroit signs could go in either the No. 3 or No. 5 slot. (If Magglio Ordonez is re-signed, he’ll likely go back to his familiar third spot in the batting order.)
Secondly, there’s no guarantee that putting Martinez behind Cabrera would prevent opposing pitchers from intentionally walking the Tigers’ first baseman. For instance, Albert Pujols was still intentionally walked 26 times last season, despite Matt Holliday batting behind him in the St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup.
Yet another consideration is that batting Martinez third would give him more at-bats, thus giving the Tigers’ a potential better return on their investment. Having Cabrera batting behind him would surely give him better pitches to hit, as well.
Fortunately, the Tigers have at least three months to decide the best role for Martinez.