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Deal with V-Mart reflects Tigers' win-now strategy @RichardJustice

PHOENIX -- Victor Martinez was the one player the Detroit Tigers weren't going to let leave.

Let's not sweat the small stuff.

PHOENIX -- Victor Martinez was the one player the Detroit Tigers weren't going to let leave.

Let's not sweat the small stuff.

If you're caught up in the Tigers giving a four-year contract to a player who'll be 36 on Opening Day next season, you're missing the larger point. This isn't about 2017 or 2018. This is about now. About winning a World Series. In 2015.

The Tigers have won four straight AL Central championships. In that time, they've been to the World Series once and to the ALCS two times. This is a tremendous accomplishment for a franchise that had eight straight losing seasons when Dave Dombrowski, now the president, CEO and general manager, took over the baseball operation in 2002.

Four years later, the Tigers won the American League pennant. Now the Tigers and Cardinals are the only teams to have made the playoffs four straight years. Their window may close at some point over the next couple of years, but it's still open.

Even if the Tigers lose Max Scherzer in free agency, they'll open next season with a rotation of David Price, Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello. There's probably not a better front four in the game.

They would miss right fielder Torii Hunter, too, if he departs in free agency. He brought production, leadership and personality to the club. But Dombrowski believes he can acquire an impact defensive player for center field and keep things rolling.

In the end, the one player he couldn't see losing was Martinez, who, according to reports, is on the verge of a four-year, $68-million deal to remain with the Tigers.

Martinez provides more than just production, and there's plenty of that, too. Last season, he led the Majors in on-base plus slugging percentage (.974) and was second in batting average (.335), slugging percentage (.565) and on-base percentage (.409). He's was top 10 in baseball in an assortment of other offensive categories, including homers (32), RBIs (103) and hits (188).

Batting cleanup behind Miguel Cabrera, Martinez gives the Tigers as difficult a three-four combination as there is in the game. If that was all he did, it would be plenty. But the Tigers say part of what makes them go is his presence and his leadership.

His toughness and work ethic impact everyone around him, and even though successful teams are dozens of different things fitting together, Martinez's value should not be underestimated. So if the deal gets completed as expected, Dombrowski will have checked off the first and most important thing on his offseason to-do list.

If he's able to trade for a defense-first center fielder, he will have finished the heavy lifting of an offseason that comes a few weeks after the Tigers were swept out of an American League Division Series by the Orioles. They may have found their man in the form of Anthony Gose, who the club acquired in a trade with the Blue Jays on Wednesday.

In the wake of an abrupt and disappointing exit from the playoffs, Dombrowski has had to remind fans and others that the Tigers are still in a very good place, that they've done great things the last four years and still have a tremendous core of talent.

"That's one of the things I had to make sure people understood," he said. "We haven't finished last five years in a row. We won the division four years in a row. We beat the American League champ [Kansas City] 13 out of 19 times. And so, we're competitive. We've got a good club."

He runs down a list of reasons to believe. There's Cabrera and that rotation. There's a reconfigured bullpen that will have Joakim Soria and Bruce Rondon in front of closer Joe Nathan. If Nathan struggles as he did at points last season, manager Brad Ausmus will have the option of sliding Soria into the ninth-inning role.

All in all, a first-rate baseball team.

"You put your nose to the grindstone and just have to keep plowing through it," Dombrowski said. "You can see that even the club that won a world championship, San Francisco, had their trials and tribulations during the season. Kansas City had theirs.

"I think it's part of the game nowadays. There's much more parity than there used to be. There's not really the dominant club. Because you're spending dollars in other places, you've got to give young players a chance. You're vulnerable in certain areas. It's how some of those questions are answered as the year progresses. Your health means a lot. There's just not a lot of separation. I think you've got to be prepared. The game is testing you. You have to be ready to deal with whatever comes up."

So the Tigers will again have Cabrera and Martinez in the middle of the lineup and Price at the front of the rotation. Dombrowski liked what he saw from several young players, including third baseman Nick Castellanos and catcher James McCann.

He's excited to see more of his young arms -- Kyle Lobstein, Robbie Ray, Drew VerHagen, Kyle Ryan, Buck Farmer -- and is leaning toward letting them come to Spring Training and compete for the fifth spot in the rotation.

"That's five guys, and any of them could jump up and win that job," he said. "There might be somebody else in the organization. We're pretty deep with some college guys."

Five weeks after the Orioles ended his season so suddenly, Dombrowski is focused on another run with an organization that prides itself on being constantly in the mix. History says he will succeed.

"We have a lot of good people -- scouting, player development, front office," he said. "That's what makes winning a world championship so special. You have to keep working hard and keep your perspective. And hope that one year when you get in the postseason it's your turn."

Richard Justice is a columnist for Read his blog, Justice4U.

Detroit Tigers, Victor Martinez