Tigers' search to fill lineup void begins
How do you replace a guy that hit .330 with 12 home runs, 103 RBI and an on-base percentage of .380, who only struck out 51 times in 540 at-bats and who was both a calming and energizing veteran influence in the clubhouse?
The Detroit Tigers are going to have to figure that out because designated hitter Victor Martinez tore the ACL in his left knee during an offseason workout.
During a conference call with the media Tuesday, Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski and head athletic trainer Kevin Rand discussed the injury and the aftermath.
"It happened last week when he was doing agility drills as part of his conditioning program," Rand said. "He was doing lateral movements, his right foot slipped and all his weight fell on his left knee."
Rand said Martinez iced the knee and then called him over the weekend. Rand set up a meeting with a doctor in Lakeland, and an MRI done Monday revealed the tear.
The Tigers announced Martinez would be re-evaluated by Dr. Richard Steadman next week and likely would undergo surgery to repair the ACL, meaning he would miss the entire 2012 season.
"You get hit in the gut, you pick up and you move on," Dombrowski said. "You never like to get news like this, but after you feel sorry for yourself for a day, you move on and start looking at alternatives."
Some of those alternatives available include former Tigers Johnny Damon, Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen; Vladimir Guerrero; Hideki Matsui; Raul Ibanez; Juan Pierre;l and Manny Ramirez.
"We're open-minded to different alternatives to hitters that are free agents and by trades," Dombrowski said. "I've received numerous phone calls from agents in the last hour looking to place their players."
Although the Tigers appreciated everything Ordonez and Guillen contributed to the team in their years in Detroit, it is unlikely the team would turn to them, considering their age and injury history.
During the playoffs, Ordonez broke the same ankle he broke the previous year, and he turns 38 later this month. Guillen is 36 and has not played more than 81 games since 2008.
The Tigers do have players currently in the organization who could move into larger roles. Or the Tigers could opt for a DH by committee.
"You have a guy like (Ryan) Raburn that can play numerous positions," Dombrowski said. "He can slide to the outfield, you can use one of your outfielders as a DH. You've got (Ramon) Santiago who can play second and short, you've got Donnie Kelly who can play a lot of outfield spots.
"Andy Dirks can play a lot of outfield spots. We've got a couple outfielders that we feel can be DHs. When you're in a spot where you catch a Gerald Laird, Alex Avila could DH for us. Jhonny Peralta could DH for us when we play Santiago at short."
Dombrowski, wisely, emphasized that since the Tigers just found out the news, they weren't going to rush to sign someone immediately.
Dombrowski indicated that if the Tigers do sign someone, it would most likely be a short-term deal, depending on the position of the player.
If the Tigers do not make a move to acquire a player outside the organization, it would probably make sense to have Delmon Young, whom the Tigers signed to a one-year contract Tuesday, serve as the primary designated hitter.
Young, who hit .274 with five doubles, a triple, eight home runs and 32 RBI in 40 games with the Tigers after his acquisition from the Minnesota Twins on Aug. 15, plays left field but is considered to be a below-average defensive outfielder.
Brennan Boesch, Austin Jackson and Andy Dirks could be the main outfielders, with Raburn and Kelly filling in.
Martinez was everything the Tigers could have hoped for when they signed him to a four-year, $50 million contract before last season. He was both a vocal leader and an example for the younger Tigers to follow.
"There's no question he's a great teammate, great in the clubhouse and well-respected by our players," said Dombrowski. "I think our players, as they continue to grow, we have a lot of players that are very well-respected and you miss a player like him on the field and in the clubhouse, but we have other people that will do a good job in leading in that regard. The real leader in our clubhouse is our skipper, and he'll continue that role for us."
The offensive load will have to rest on Miguel Cabrera, as usual, and on Avila, Peralta, Boesch and Young. Martinez was not expected to catch at all this season and the team signed Laird to back up Avila, so that won't be a hole to fill.
Even without Martinez, the Tigers have a good chance to win the American League Central Division again.
The Kansas City Royals have some good, young players but aren't expected to contend and the Chicago White Sox are in rebuilding mode, so the main competition will come from the up-and-coming Cleveland Indians and the Minnesota Twins, who are expected to bounce back from a bad, injury-riddled season.
But the Tigers are going to have to have Martinez be the only long-term injury they have this season in order to repeat.