The first bombshell of the hot stove season dropped Wednesday when the Detroit Tigers backed up the truck to keep designated hitter Victor Martinez with a four-year deal that is reportedly worth $68 million.
Martinez, who will turn 36 in December, was one of the top pure hitters available on the free-agent market. He batted .335/.409/.565 with a career-high 32 home runs last season, led the American League in on-base percentage (.409) and OPS (.974) and is a finalist for the AL Most Valuable Player award, which will be announced Thursday.
It will be interesting to see how Martinez's signing impacts the market value of Nelson Cruz.
While Martinez battled for a AL batting title this season, his run production numbers are comparable to those of Cruz, who led the major leagues with a career-high 40 home runs. Both players are in their mid-30s, even though Cruz is 17 months younger than Martinez.
And both players are limited defensively. Martinez is almost exclusively a designated hitter, making 115 of his 150 starts at the position in 2014. Cruz, who has a history of leg problems in the second half of the season, remained healthy this year partially because he made 89 starts at designated hitter. The main difference between the two players is that Martinez is a switch hitter while Cruz bats from the right side.
So if Martinez received a four-year deal despite being older than Cruz, there's reason for Cruz's agent, Diego Bentz, to believe that his client can legitimately garner a four-year deal now. Teams looking for a middle-of-the-order power hitter and lost out on Martinez likely will turn their attention to Cruz.
The Orioles made Cruz a three-year deal shortly after the All-Star break. Cruz was initially seeking a five-year extension. Both sides met Tuesday at the general managers' meetings.
So if the Orioles aren't willing to budge from a three-year offer, they might be best served to wait out the market. Cruz is tied to a qualifying offer, so if another team signs him, that team would forfeit its highest unprotected draft pick. That could scare some teams away. And since Cruz likely will need to play designated hitter a significant amount of time, that probably will take National League teams out of the mix.
Consider those factors and there might not be very many suitors willing to give Cruz a four-year deal now.
Keep in mind that the Tigers and Martinez wanted to remain together. The Tigers didn't want to break up the tandem of Miguel Cabrera and Martinez in the middle of their order. And some of Martinez's best seasons have come in Detroit. He knew he had a good thing going with the Tigers, and they didn't waste any time getting a deal done.
The Orioles appear willing to wait on Cruz, and the longer he remains on the market, the better chance the club has to re-sign its slugger. Cruz made it clear he enjoyed Baltimore. He liked playing in hitter-friendly Camden Yards, playing for manager Buck Showalter, and he meshed well in the Orioles clubhouse.
The Orioles would like Cruz back as well. His bat can carry the offense at times, and he was a good fit all around. And if they wait long enough, they might be able to get him for three years instead of four.
At the same time, all it takes is one team with a thick wallet to ruin that strategy.