By: Kurt Snyder
Three more years. Three healthy years. That’s what the Tigers need out of Victor Martinez. So what are they doing about it? How are the Tigers making sure they get the most out of him?
Well, this is what they have done so far. Victor concerned everyone when he injured his knee in the spring and needed surgery to repair his meniscus. Red flag, right? How long would he be out? Who would fill the void? There was genuine panic, at least in my mind.
This was a guy who almost won an MVP with his gaudy numbers in 2014, earning him a contract that no one in Detroit disputed. It would take a four-year contract to bring him back. There was certainly risk, but it was risk worth taking, given his continued productivity.
So given how badly we needed him in the lineup this year, I believe the Tigers panicked. They mapped out a plan that could get Victor and Miggy back for Opening Day, as Miggy was also recovering from off-season surgery.
And that’s what was presented to the media; the goal was to have both ready for Opening Day. It was a relief to hear. The last thing anyone wanted to do is start the season without either one of these guys, much less both.
Before long, VMart was taking batting practice in Lakeland and suddenly he was in the lineup. But he was far from ready. He limped on the base paths and the day that Victor tweaked that knee running to first in spring training was the day we learned a lot about his health and a lot about who was in charge of this baseball team. And it certainly wasn’t Brad Ausmus.
Brad couldn’t get Victor off the field. VMart just waved him off and he continued to run the bases. He was not removed. He was not protected. It was a disturbing development. Brad had no pull in his own locker room. It was evident right way in spring training.
Along came Opening Day and the Tigers had delivered what they had promised. They felt such a sense of urgency to get these guys in the lineup to start the season that it was hard to determine where all the pressure was coming from. It was totally unnecessary. We had a whole season to worry about. And bringing key players back too early from injury was foolish at best, and risked another run at a division title.
The Tigers have handled VMart’s injury poorly all season. He was rushed to Opening Day, had nothing for weeks and was finally and mercifully placed on the DL. It was long overdue as game after game, we waited for Victor to come around. He looked miserable at the plate, demonstrating no real ability to drive the ball, and it was painful to watch him run. Victor Martinez had no business playing baseball. He didn’t belong on the field.
And as it turned out, the DL stint helped him a great deal. Imagine that! When he returned, he began to hit for power and looked more like the cleanup hitter we had grown to love all these years.
But recently, things have slowed down for him again. The average is down, the bat is getting slower, the extra base hits have been few and far between and he again appears to be less than 100%. He looks tired, having endured a lot; fighting his health in a season filled with disappointment. So the Tigers need to act.
This is not a team in a heated pennant race. Not this year. If that was the case, you could understand the need for Victor to continue to play. He commands respect at the plate, even when he’s not completely healthy. And he has helped spell Miggy, ironically, at first base, in the interests of keeping Cabrera from reinjuring that calf.
But the Tigers are dying a slow death, sitting in last place in the Central, 10 games under .500 and all the minor leaguers are ready to show us what they got.
So why on earth is Victor Martinez still playing? Isn’t it time to shut him down? September, outside of player development and Miggy’s run at a batting title, will be a meaningless month.
Sure, a decision to shut him down wouldn’t be popular. Victor is a competitor and he wants to be playing. But this is not his decision. Someone needs to save Victor from himself, and any further delay is unacceptable.