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Tigers Expected To Pursue Victor Martinez

The Detroit Tigers have $60 million coming off their payroll, and many throughout baseball expect them to spend it on free agent talent. Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski hasn’t dampened those expectations, either, saying that the team will be making “a lot of moves this wintertime.”

One move that Detroit would like to make is bringing in a left-handed power hitter that can protect Miguel Cabrera in the lineup. And rumblings throughout baseball over the past couple of weeks indicate that catcher Victor Martinez may be the Tigers’ top target.

The Denver Post’s Troy Renck, familiar with the free-agent catching market as the Rockies are looking to upgrade at that position, posted the following on Twitter last week:

W tigers poised to make victor martinez a rich man one name to keep an eye on for rox is angels’ mike Napoli. Can catch and play 1b

Renck had actually been connecting Martinez to the Tigers for the last couple of weeks. Tigers beat writer Jason Beck responded, saying that Renck wasn’t reporting this so much as passing along what he was hearing.

Other reporters seem to be hearing the same rumors, however. MLB Network’s Peter Gammons appeared on Boston’s WEEI last week, saying that he didn’t expect Martinez to return to the Red Sox. And the Tigers would be the reason for that.

"I don’t expect Victor Martinez to come back, I think Detroit is going to give him four or five years. And I don’t think anybody else is going to give him four or five years to be a catcher."

Peter Abraham, who covers the Red Sox for the Boston Globe, was yet another that mentioned the Tigers’ interest in Martinez. He even took that one step further, speculating that Detroit might compete with Boston not only for Martinez, but for outfielder Carl Crawford.

SI.com’s Ben Reiter is one more writer who sees the Tigers and Martinez as a good fit, matching the two together in his ranking of the top 50 free agents.

This year with the Red Sox, Martinez hit .302/.351/.493 with 20 home runs and 79 RBIs. Those numbers are consistent with his best offensive seasons, and were among the best at catcher this year. Martinez was also exceptional batting from the right side against left-handed pitching in 2010, with a .400/.431/.742 average and 12 homers.

Defensively, however, Martinez was one of the worst behind the plate against the running game. He threw out only 27 of 99 basestealers this season. That’s the sacrifice the Tigers would be making.

But as Tom Gage points out, the question is whether or not Martinez would be a full-time catcher with the Tigers. Signing him to a big free-agent contract would seem to carry that expectation. Yet the Tigers presumably want Alex Avila to be their starting catcher (who is a better defender at the position) next season.

That doesn’t mean Martinez wouldn’t be a full-time player in Detroit, however. He could split time with Avila as a right-handed bat in a catching platoon. When Avila was in the lineup, Martinez could be the designated hitter. He also has experience playing first base, which might provide an opportunity to spell Cabrera in the field when needed.

If Martinez wants to be a full-time catcher, he might prefer to look elsewhere. Of course, a big contract offer from the Tigers could make him more willing to accept something of a utility role.