The Detroit News
DETROIT — He'll catch some, occasionally start at first base. But that's not why the Tigers pursued Victor Martinez as a free agent.
They wanted his bat. And it appears they now have his bat.
Making no secret of their need and desire to sign a middle-of-the-lineup hitter, the Tigers reportedly have come to terms with Martinez on a four-year, $50 million contract.
Ignacio Serrano of El Nacional in Venezuela broke the story Tuesday morning. According to the report, Martinez turned down a four-year $50 million offer from the Orioles and a three-year, $48 million offer from the White Sox.
It could be he feels the Tigers are better positioned than the other two teams to get to the postseason during his contract.
The signing is the second free-agent addition the Tigers have made in a week. On Friday, they announced the signing of relief pitcher Joaquin Benoit to a three-year contract.
They've also extended Brandon Inge's contract for two years and signed shortstop Jhonny Peralta for two years.
So it's been a busy offseason so far for the Tigers.
And they might not be done. In fact, they probably aren't.
By not offering Magglio Ordonez arbitration Tuesday, the Tigers possibly opened the way to re-signing him for significantly less than the $18 million he made this year.
Ordonez has professed a desire to return to the Tigers, and no doubt knows he won't command from any team the kind of salary he's received since it climbed to $15 million in 2006. But there could be competition for Ordonez — so it's not automatic he'll return to the Tigers.
As a .300 career hitter, Martinez will be a major addition, however. The only surprise is that by signing with the Tigers, he'll now be hitting in a ballpark where his career batting average is .225 compared to the .336 he's hit at Chicago's U.S. Cellular Field and the .296 he's hit at Baltimore's Camden Yards.
Obviously he doesn't anticipate his problems at Comerica Park to continue.
Martinez will turn 32 on Dec. 23. A major-leaguer since breaking in the Cleveland in 2002, he's not a kid. But as a hitter with career bests of 25 home runs and 114 RBIs, who's hit above.300 six times, he's had a productive major-league career.
There are no red flags that he's slowing down, either. For Boston this year, for instance, he hit .302 with 20 home runs and 79 RBIS. His RBI ratio was down, but for a weaker-than-usual Boston team, he had only 118 a-bats with runners in scoring position compared to 178 the year before, when he had 108 RBIS Martinez is a switch-hitter who would be comfortable hitting third if the Tigers don't bring Ordonez back — or fifth if they do.
Where he fits on the field might not be as easy to determine, however, as where he fits in the batting order.
Martinez started 110 games as the Red Sox catcher this year. But the Tigers have said Alex Avila will handle the bulk of their catching duties in 2011. Either they'll alter that plan or Martinez will catch less than he did.
But if he catches less, there still won't be a vacancy at first base where Martinez started 70 games in 2009. Miguel Cabrera is a fixture at first for the Tigers.
And, no, outfield is not an alternative. Martinez has never played in the outfield as a major-leaguer.
So what the Tigers have done for their $50 million is sign a projected designated hitter. With just 119 at-bats and a .235 batting average as a DH, it's a spot at which Martinez will have to get accustomed — but by signing with the Tigers, he has to know what positions are available to him and what aren't.
The bottom line is he's a hitter with a proven, productive track record — and that's what the Tigers both needed and targeted.
Because Martinez is a Type A free agent, Detroit will forfeit its first-round pick, No. 19 overall, to Boston. It's the second straight year the Tigers have given up their first-round pick for a free agent. Last offseason, that was the cost of signing closer Jose Valverde.