DETROIT -- Victor Martinez sat at the podium at Comerica Park two years ago and talked emotionally about what it meant to remain a Tiger. Directly to his left was Tigers owner Mike Ilitch, who talked about a vow to take care of him for what he did in their run to a fourth consecutive division title in 2014. There was sentiment behind the four-year extension they agreed upon, even as Martinez's age loomed.
It seems further in the past, almost a distant memory. And as the Tigers look to pare payroll at next week's Winter Meetings, Martinez joins teammates J.D. Martinez, Ian Kinsler, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera in baseball's Hot Stove rumor mill.
The Tigers have had some inquiries on Victor Martinez, as Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reported. That in itself isn't really a surprise, given how many ideas are thrown around in the month or so between baseball's General Managers Meetings and the Winter Meetings. The question as discussions become more focused is how serious that interest becomes.
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That depends in part on the rest of the market.
"Always a place for a good bat," one Major League evaluator said.
Indeed, as the rumored interest around the league for 39-year-old Carlos Beltrán has shown, age isn't a big hindrance on players who can still perform. In the case of current free agents, it can be a gift, given their propensity for shorter-term contracts compared to younger players.
Martinez, of course, isn't a free agent. With his 38th birthday about three weeks away, he's under contract for two more seasons with an annual salary of $18 million. The only larger salaries on Detroit's roster for 2017 belong to Cabrera ($28 million), Verlander ($28 million) and Justin Upton ($22,120,000).
Like the other three, Martinez provided production, bouncing back from an injury-plagued 2015 season to bat .289 with 27 homers, 86 RBIs and an .826 OPS. His OPS was the sixth highest among players with qualifying at-bats at designated hitter, and just behind fellow switch-hitter Beltran, who split his season between DH and right field.
As the Tigers look to pare down their payroll for next year and beyond, Martinez's salary looms large. But even if two years of control on Martinez seems palatable for clubs, Detroit might have to eat some of that money to facilitate a deal for even big-market teams wary of the luxury tax threshold.
Since Martinez was almost exclusively a DH last year, playing just five games at first base, his market is essentially limited to the American League. Also complicating any potential deal is Martinez's full no-trade rights as a 10-and-5 player -- 10 years in the Major Leagues, the last five with the same team. Any trade would require his approval, and while he doesn't have any contract options to use as leverage, he can certainly exercise his rights to either stay in Detroit or go somewhere he wants.
But in an era when bullpen matchups loom large -- and could grow more frequent if rosters expand to 26 players -- the fact that Martinez remains an effective switch-hitter gives him the advantage of being a difficult hitter to match up against. After knee issues left him struggling to hit for power from the left side in 2015, he actually hit for a higher OPS against righties (.832) than lefties (.812) for the first time since '13.