He just completed his best season at the plate, batting .335/.409/.565 with 32 home runs — all career bests — and posted a .411 wOBA and 166 wRC+. Even if 2014 was a bit of an aberration in terms of what’s to come, if he’s in the lineup he’s going to hit because, simply put, he;s a good hitter.
But what kind of free agent is Martinez?
Qualifying Offer: Yes
Martinez, a switch hitter, performs well versus left-handers and right-handers alike, and does so with above-average power, high contact rates and the ability to draw his share of walks. He controls the strike zone, allowing his line-drive swing to maximize results, limit slumps and maintain consistent production.
Martinez is a bit stronger from the right side the past few years, which undoubtedly delights the Seattle Mariners who want more balance in their lineup. He’s not a traditional ‘power bat’ with the exception of his 2014 campaign that resulted in 33 doubles to go with his 32 long balls. Martinez is a very good hitter, however, and one who boasts a career .306/.373/.475 triple-slash. He carries no baggage as a hitter; there are no career trends in terms of how to pitch to Martinez, he hits power pitchers and finesse arms fairly equally and his swing is consistent from both sides of the plate.
Pitcher’s ballparks, including Safeco Field, don’t intimidate Martinez, nor does hitting with two strikes. He hits the fastball well — .313 with a .493 slugging the past three seasons versus four seamers — torches sliders and two-seamers and more than handles curveballs and changeups.
Martinez can flat out hit. He’s similar to Robinson Cano in many ways and despite his age is likely to continue to hit enough for the next 2-4 years. He’s comfortable anywhere in the middle of the batting order, has won everywhere he’s been and if you believe in clutch hitting, Martinez qualifies there, too, carrying a career .287/.423/.424 line with two outs and runners in scoring position, as well as a .313/.405/.464 showing with runners in scoring position and any number of outs.
Martinez, perhaps just as importantly as his actual performance, forces opposing pitchers to game plan for him. He’s protected such hitters including Travis Hafner, Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder and brings a reputation as one of the tougher outs in the game. His consistency from each side of the plate is a weapon in and of itself, too, and he’s always hit with regularity in any setting — hitter’s paradise or cavernous valleys alike.
Not only is Martinez 36 in December, but he has a bit of an injury history and may be an ‘old’ 36 due to his time spent crouching behind the plate donning the tools of ignorance — 858 games, more than 7,200 innings. He caught just 17 innings in 2014, however, and hasn’t played the position with any regularity since 2007, but he’s a non-factor there now, and while he can handle first base, isn’t ideal at the position.
Martinez is a bat-only value; in addition to his limited ability to bring any value defensively, he’s always lacked speed and isn’t the best of baserunners. Possessing a DH-only hitter hinders lineup flexibility and given his potential to hit the disabled list and/or hit a severe decline before the end of his contract, there’s major risk in Martinez beyond two years.
Cost & Conclusion: Mariners Perspective
Martinez is coming off a four-year, $50 million contract with the Detroit Tigers and his former club tendered the $15.3 million Qualifying Offer, which means signing him would cost Seattle their first-round draft pick, No. 21 overall. While that alone should and likely will be just a small factor, if a factor at all, it does play a role in Martinez’s price since the compensation costs is not the same for every club.
His market is limited to the American League and to those in the circuit with a need at designated hitter, but that isn’t likely to keep Martinez from securing at least a three-year deal worth around $15 million per season. Four years is very possible, too, and it’s reportedly what Martinez is seeking this offseason.
The Tigers are certain to have interest in retaining Martinez, but with Paul Konerko retiring the Chicago White Sox are another strong possibility. Baltimore could be a fit, too, particularly if they let Nelson Cruz and/or Chris Davis walk, and don’t rule out the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers. The Kansas City Royals may be the dark horse call here since they declined the $12.5 option on Billy Butler, have a need in the middle of their order and might be motivated financially by their run this past season.
Seattle is going to have a shot, but may have to be the highest bidder to stay in the running, and only Camp Martinez knows if he has any interest in playing in Seattle in the first place. The club’s progress in 2014 helps, too, as does the presence of stars Felix Hernandez and Robinson Cano. The questions for Seattle may come down to what they are comfortable with in terms of team payroll moving forward and how motivated the ownership group is to build on the momentum built this past season. The question for Martinez may be about their chances to win in 2015 and 2016 and how he might deal with the travel.
Martinez hitting cleanup between Cano and Kyle Seager sounds pretty good, and such an addition would serve as a legitimate step toward an offense that can support an above-average pitching staff. The Mariners are not the favorites to land Martinez, but don’t be completely shocked if they are the highest bidder and ultimately lure him to Seattle for four years and upwards of $65-70 million. After all, they shocked the world when they signed Cano and $65-70 million is peanuts in comparison to what they committed to their second baseman.
Their level of aggressiveness with Martinez ultimately may depend on how they plan to attack the rest of the offseason. Putting all their eggs in one basket isn’t wise and they know this as well as we do. The club’s payroll plans may dictate in this sense; if they’re planning to get to the $115 million range or so in 2015, Martinez probably doesn’t fit as he’d gulp down most of the available payroll all by himself. If they’re willing to go beyond that, they could be real players for the top hitter on the free agent market, which could set them up for an absolutely huge winter that in terms of overall talent could make things really interesting in the American League.