Victor Martinez returned from February knee surgery in time for Opening Day and has played 34 of 39 games for the Tigers, but he’s clearly looked less than full strength and now he’s “likely” headed to the disabled list according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press.
Last season Martinez hit .335 with 32 homers and a .974 OPS, striking out just 42 times in 641 plate appearances on the way to finishing runner-up in the MVP voting. This season Martinez has hit .216 with one homer and a .578 OPS, striking out 13 times in 130 plate appearances. That includes a rare three-strikeout game last week as part of Martinez’s current 0-for-13 stretch.
Certainly plenty of 36-year-olds simply decline, so it’s possible age has played a part in Martinez’s plummeting production, but just from watching his at-bats it seems clear that he’s having trouble putting weight on his surgically repaired knee. Detroit re-signed Martinez to a four-year, $68 million contract this offseason, so they’re betting big on him avoiding an age-related decline and have lots of motivation to take a long-term approach to his health by shutting him down for a while.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the Padres will try to get Fernando Tatís Jr. locked up in a long-term deal before the start of the 2020 season.
It’d be a wise move from the team’s perspective, of course. Tatís showed in 2019 that he’s the future of the franchise, hitting .317/.379/.590 with 22 homers and 16 stolen bases through 84 games while playing spectacular defense at short. He was a serious contender for the Rookie of the Year Award before going down to injury and still finished third despite playing just a tad over half a season.
That talent and promise means that, in all likelihood, Tatís stands to make massive money in arbitration and free agency once he gets there. If he gets there, that is. Because as we’ve seen so often in recent years, teams have been aggressive in their efforts to lock up young stars like Tatís, buying out their arbitration and at least a couple of their free agency years. These deals tend to be team-friendly, with multiple team options aimed at getting maximal value out of such players before they hit the open market. Of course, the players get much more up front money than they would in the three seasons in which teams can and do set their salaries unilaterally, usually at less than $1 million per year. It’s a standard now vs. later tradeoff, even if the value of the “now” is far less than the value of “later” and even if it pays these guys far less than they’re worth overall.
But that’s the system. And it’s one which will force Tatís to make a tough choice: either take a deal at a time when the team has most of the leverage or else turn down millions in hand now in order take a shot at many more millions later. In his case, he’ll have a rookie season with multiple injuries to think about too. Does that portend future injury issues? Could he, like some players who have been in his shoes before, end up damaged goods by the time he expected to get paid?
We’ll see how both he and the Padres calculate all of that between now and February, it seems.