Victor Martinez Should Provide Ample Protection for Miguel Cabrera in 2014
After the Detroit Tigers traded Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler last month, the reaction from Tigers fans was mostly positive. Sure, Tigers fans appreciated Fielder’s iron man persona, applauded the fact that he appeared in every single game for the Tigers over the past two seasons, and everyone thought it would be fitting to see the kid who used to launch home runs into the upper deck of Tiger Stadium as a 12-year-old go on to win a World Series ring in Detroit. However, at the end of the day, people were beginning to see that the Fielder experiment was not going nearly as well as the Tigers had hoped, and moving him to another team would open up numerous possibilities and make the Tigers far more flexible. The Tigers simply saw a way out of Fielder’s massive contract and wisely took it. Fielder, seeing an opportunity for a fresh start, was happy to oblige and waive his no-trade clause.
Moreover, Max Scherzer, the reigning American League Cy Young Winner, has emerged as a fan favorite and is set to become a free agent after the 2014 season. The chances of the Tigers being able to re-sign Scherzer to an extension with Fielder still on the payroll were slim and none, and it still may prove to be difficult.
Furthermore, after seeing Miguel Cabrera play a large portion of the season at less than 100 percent, some fans were crying out for the Tigers to find a way to move Cabrera back to first base, where he played from 2008-2011, as it would be far easier for him to stay healthy there.
The increased probability of the Tigers being able to re-sign Scherzer — as well as the fact that Cabrera can now go back home to first base — makes it hard for most Tigers fans to disagree with this trade. That being said, however, there is still a faction of the fan base that is concerned that Cabrera’s numbers will fall next season as a result of the fact that Fielder will no longer be hitting behind him. Tigers fans should not be concerned for one big reason: Victor Martinez.
Sure, Cabrera won back-to-back MVP awards with Fielder hitting behind him as well as two-batting titles and the first Triple Crown in 45 years. However, Cabrera’s numbers prior to the arrival of Fielder are certainly nothing to sneeze at, and although Cabrera may no longer have the big power threat batting behind him he still has the luxury of having a lifetime .300 hitter in that spot.
For the vast majority of the 2011 season, Cabrera batted cleanup and Martinez hit fifth. Cabrera batted .344 that season and beat out Adrian Gonzalez for his very first batting title. Cabrera also led the league with 48 doubles in 2011.
Martinez had a career year himself in 2011 as he hit a career-high .330 and remarkably drove in 103 runs with just 12 home runs. Martinez appeared to be on the verge of entering into a new phase of his career by settling into the DH role and becoming something along the lines of a switch-hitting Paul Molitor before a freak injury sidelined him for the entire 2012 season.
Admittedly, when Martinez returned the first half of 2013 did not go as well as he and the Tigers had hoped as he hit just .258. However, he came back with a vengeance in the second half, hitting to the tune of a .361 batting average thus raising his average for the season to .301 which was on par with his career average of .303. He also finished the season with 14 home runs and drove in a total of 83 runs. If Martinez did not return to form then Tigers fans might have something to worry about. However, the fact is that Martinez did regain the swing he had in 2011, went on to have a terrific postseason, and he can be expected to pick up right where he left of next April.
Martinez is regarded in many baseball circles as a consummate professional hitter, and he should provide more than enough protection for Cabrera in 2014. If an opposing manager thinks that he can walk Cabrera to get to Martinez next season, Martinez will be liable to burn him with one of his signature rocket shots in the gap.