Hope springs eternal as spring training approaches—and then something like this happens. The Tigers found out on Tuesday that Victor Martinez tore the ACL in his left knee, and the 33-year-old is likely to require surgery, which would leave him sidelined for all of the 2012 season.
Detroit was viewed as a favorite to repeat atop the American League Central this year, and at first glance, Martinez’s absence seems a crushing blow. Losing the number-five hitter hurts any lineup, particularly when that hitter posted a robust .330/.380/.470 triple slash the previous season. But a closer look reveals that Martinez’s production may not be irreplaceable.
Despite his gaudy batting line, Martinez’s overall contributions in 2011 totaled just 3.1 WARP, because he offers no value on defense. One of V-Mart’s significant credentials, though, is that he is a switch-hitter, able to handle lefties and righties about equally well. That component of his production figures to be the most difficult for general manager Dave Dombrowski to account for.
There are plenty of DH options still available on the free-agent market, and virtually all of them can fit within Dombrowski’s budget. They range from declining veterans like Vladimir Guerrero and ex-Tiger Johnny Damon, to flawed players just looking for a fit, such as Carlos Pena and Jonny Gomes. Outfielder Seth Smith would have been a useful addition, and though he was traded to the Athletics yesterday, rebuilding GM Billy Beane might be willing to flip him for a net gain.
The problem with the majority of those options is they only amount to half of one V-Mart. Pena and Smith mash right-handed pitching; Gomes is dynamite against southpaws; but none of them do both as well as Martinez does. Fortunately, the Tigers already have the other half on their roster: either Ryan Raburn (.270/.340/.507 career line versus lefties) or Delmon Young (.307/.343/.479) would make an effective platoon partner. Hence, Dombrowski should add a left-handed slugger—Pena, Smith, and Hideki Matsui could fit the bill—in the coming weeks.
Martinez’s absence certainly is not ideal, but that’s mostly because it will require the Tigers to commit two spots to the least-important position on the roster. The average American League DH batted .265/.340/.429 last season, and any of the aforementioned timeshare options should produce above that level for Detroit in 2012. This is not “disastrous news” for the Tigers, as Jon Paul Morosi suggested. It’s a bump in the road—but not one that should prevent Detroit from winning its second consecutive division title.