Victor Martinez Signs with Detroit Tigers: Projecting Detroit's 2011 Lineup

Matt TruebloodSenior Analyst INovember 23, 2010

Victor Martinez Signs with Detroit Tigers: Projecting Detroit's 2011 Lineup

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    The Detroit Tigers have agreed to a contract with free agent catcher Victor Martinez, according to multiple reports. Martinez's deal is for four years, and they will pay the switch-hitting catcher roughly $50 million.

    Martinez may catch less often with Detroit than he has in previous seasons, seeing more time at designated hitter as he ages.

    For the Tigers, Martinez is a coup.

    He batted .302/.351/.493, and launched 20 home runs in 538 plate appearances for the Red Sox in 2010, a pretty typical season for the four-time All-Star.

    He will hit somewhere in the middle of the order, and eliminate Detroit as a destination for free agent slugger, Adam Dunn.

    What does the move mean for the Tigers?

    Can they now contend with the two-time defending champion Minnesota Twins for AL Central supremacy?

    To begin answering that question, here is the projected lineup for the 2011 Tigers, featuring their new addition.

1. Austin Jackson, CF

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    If there were any justice in this world, Austin Jackson would be the reigning AL Rookie of the Year, not because he was better than winner Neftali Feliz, but because Feliz hardly qualified as a rookie.

    If he survived the slight, Jackson will be back for a sophomore season in Detroit that could be even better than his rookie year.

    He struck out 170 times, the most in the American League, but he also stole 27 bases in 33 tries, and played sparkling defense in center field.

    Jackson's batting average may take a hit this season, as his average on balls in play (a ridiculous, seemingly unsustainable .396 in 2010) comes back down to Earth, so patience and contact will be more critical in 2011.

    Still, Jackson is a solid lead-off hitter.

2. Will Rhymes, 2B

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    Rhymes is tiny human being, weighing less than 160 pounds and standing five-foot-nine.

    Still, he had 15 extra-base hits in 213 plate appearances last year.

    He profiles a lot like a Ryan Theriot or Jason Bartlett: He makes a ton of contact, runs well, (though Rhymes runs markedly less well than Theriot) and plays solid defense at either middle infield spot.

    He batted .304/.350/.414 during his audition in 2010, though after the Scott Sizemore debacle, Detroit is sure to weight the value of that information carefully.

    Since they are unlikely to spend major money on retaining Johnny Damon, Rhymes is the best bet they have to bat second.

3. Victor Martinez, C

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    Martinez will surely move to DH some of the time as the team tries to get the most out of defensive-minded Alex Avila, and protect Martinez's knees.

    When they need to score and score often, or when the opposing team is sending their ace, Detroit will have Martinez behind the dish.

    He could have trouble sustaining the sort of power he showed in Boston, where the Green Monster helped him post his best full-season slugging average since 2007.

    Still, Martinez is an extremely valuable offensive catcher who could well swat 40 doubles and drive in 100 runs at Comerica Park.

4. Miguel Cabrera, 1B

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    Cabrera has been one of baseball's best young hitters for years.

    In 2010, he became the American league's absolute best.

    He struck out fewer than 100 times for the first full season of his career, drove in a league-leading 126 runs and led the league in park-adjusted OPS.

    He could well drive in 140 or more runs in 2011, with Martinez an additional batter in front of him in the Tigers' order.

    Martinez also makes things tougher on opposing managers: He bats from both sides of the plate, so any right-handed specialists the skipper may want to bring in, would likely have to wait until Cabrera gets to the plate.

5. Magglio Ordonez, RF

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    The Tigers decided not to offer arbitration to Ordonez, who is a free agent.

    In Ordonez's case, though, that choice is not a reflection upon him. It simply would not have made sense to make that offer, because Ordonez would have accepted and cashed in for more than the Tigers would have to pay to win him back on the open market.

    Ordonez's season was cut short by injury in 2010, but he looked like his usual self while he was in the lineup: He batted .303/.378/.474 in 365 plate appearances.

    Ordonez fits the team's needs so well at this stage in his career, that both sides would do very well to find common ground. If that happens, he would join Martinez and Cabrera to form a heart of the order perfectly suited to the roomy home parks of both Detroit and rival Minnesota, built not on home-run power, but on doubles and batting average.

6. Brennan Boesch, DH

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    On July 7, it would not have seemed crazy to suggest that Boesch get a starting job again in 2011. In fact, if the season had ended on July 7, Boesch would surely have been the near-unanimous AL Rookie of the Year.

    Instead, time kept marching on, and Boesch hit an almost unthinkable .167/.237/.227 from that day on. He finished the year with 43 extra-base hits, but 30 of those came before July 7. He just couldn't figure it out thereafter.

    Yet, he has a few things going for him. Everyone saw the flashes of brilliance in 2010, so there is no doubt he can, to some degree, hit at this level.

    He is dirt-cheap, having played still less than one full season of big-league ball.

    He bats left-handed, which is only slightly less important because of Martinez's arrival: Only Rhymes and Martinez bat from the left side.

    Boesch will not be anything special or spectacular, but he could be a solid stopgap in a year when the Tigers need to focus on improving their pitching staff.

7. Ryan Raburn, LF

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    On July 24, Raburn's career was flashing before his eyes. He struck out twice and went hit-less in four tries that day, bringing his season batting line to .203/.277/.326.

    As promising as his 2009 campaign had been, he seemed to be in real danger of flaming out altogether.

    Beginning July 25, everything changed. He batted .326/.378/.562 for the remainder of the season and hit 13 of his 15 home runs.

    In the end, he earned a job somewhere on the diamond in 2011.

    He will have ample opportunities to drive in runs with Martinez, Cabrera and Ordonez all ahead of him, and won't have to fight the internal pressure of batting in the heart of the Detroit order.

8. Jhonny Peralta, SS

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    Peralta was one of the early moves in an already very busy Tigers off-season, as the team locked him up for 2011 and 2012.

    Detroit had acquired Peralta from Cleveland during the season, and he batted .253/.314/.396 in 242 plate appearances.

    He also took quickly to a return to shortstop, and forms a strong defensive infield with third baseman Brandon Inge.

    Peralta was a long-time Indians teammate to Martinez, and had reportedly been trying to lure the catcher into Motown.

    It worked, and that may be Jhonny Peralta's best and brightest contribution to the 2011 Tigers—even if he has a good season.

9. Brandon Inge, 3B

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    Inge was another would-be free agent whom the Tigers locked up quickly, signing him to a two-year extension very similar to Peralta's.

    Inge batted .247/.321/.397 in 2010.  Unimpressive, but very typical numbers for him.

    He has some power and occasionally makes a play on the bases (the consensus is that until Jackson arrived in a trade last winter, Inge was the team's best athlete for about a decade), but his true value is on defense.

    Inge plays third base as well as any American League player, with a strong arm and great range.

    He moves cat-like, his body constantly bent forward and balancing as though he were about to drop to all fours.

    The fundamentals are excellent for Inge, and although he will never win one, he deserves Gold Glove consideration every year.