Victor Martinez | Designated Hitter | #41
2014 salary: $12 million
2013 statistics: .301/.355/.430, 14 HR, 36 2B, 0 3B, 0 SB, 54 BB, 62 K
Projected role: Designated hitter, occasional first baseman, even more occasional catcher
Victor Martinez’s worst case scenario appeared a reality last June 28, when he went 0-for-4 against Tampa Bay to drop his average to .225 and lower his OPS to pre-August Raburnian levels (.615, a mark that would get most regulars benched and make Brennan Boesch’s 2012 look downright competent). He was a 34 year old coming off microfracture surgery, and he looked like it. Sure, his BABIP was abnormally low, but the problems looked like they ran much deeper – his bat was slow.
…and then the next day he had three hits, went on to hit .370 for the rest of the season (remarkably raising his season average over the .300 mark) and was pretty much neck-and-neck with Jhonny Peralta for Most Dangerous Postseason Hitter on the Tigers roster. Most of the fears over Martinez were allayed by then, and he arrives in camp this year with a full offseason under his belt and the injury fears pretty much out the window. Oh, he also arrives as the likely cleanup hitter, too.
Victor is far from the stereotypical cleanup hitter considering his power is eroding. That said, he’s still excellent at putting the ball in play (his strikeout rate was sixth lowest among all qualifiers in 2013) and he still hits line drives like nobody’s business. Even if said line drive rate drops this year, he’ll still be in good shape to match his career average (20.8%; he’s been at 24.2 and 22.3 in his two years with Detroit).
35 is a scary age for a hitter, and Martinez does have his drawbacks as a player (the man cannot run and when he bats with a man on first, the opposition salivates at the double play possibilities). But he has a decent skill set as a hitter, and he’s probably got enough in his locker to fend off the age monster for a little while yet. The Tigers hope he’ll have plenty of chances to drive in runs in 2014. He’ll also be able to spell Miguel Cabrera at first base (where Martinez is competent) and, occasionally, Alex Avila at catcher (where Martinez is less competent, but it could be a nice luxury in an NL ballpark).