Victor Martinez Problem

January 19, 2012 by staff 

Victor Martinez ProblemVictor Martinez Problem, Baseball managers are nuts. I’m certain of that now. They look at rooms with those proverbial rubber walls and wonder how their outfielders should play the ricochet off them.

What others perceive as headaches, managers look upon as opportunities to force round objects through square holes.

“It’s not the end of the world,” a relatively chipper Jim Leyland said at the Tigers’ first stop of their four-day winter caravan Wednesday night, regarding the likely season-long loss of Victor Martinez to a knee injury.

“I’m not going to lie to you. It stinks. It’s sad, because he’s a tremendous player and a tremendous person, but there’s nothing we can do about it now.”

When general manager Dave Dombrowski notified him of the seriousness of Martinez’s injury Monday afternoon, he asked Leyland whether he was sitting down. Leyland was — he was driving his daughter to Kent State University.

Like everyone in the organization, Leyland was down when he learned the news. He credited Martinez for the Tigers’ improved clubhouse equilibrium last season so often that reporters lost count.

He admitted to a little restlessness in bed. But as managers do, he applied thought to remedy and pen to paper, writing down 10 or so lineup possibilities.

But Leyland conceded that he left one spot vacant with a question — internal or external?

Where do the Tigers find an answer?

“It’s so fresh right now,” he said. “Everybody wants a solution, but we just figured out that there was a problem.”

Leyland should’ve been seriously depressed about losing his valuable No. 5 hitter because of a conditioning mishap that resulted in a blown-out anterior cruciate ligament. But he sees an opportunity. There’s a chance for somebody to step forward.

“And if you don’t believe that,” Leyland said, “look back to where this team was before September, when we got on a run and pulled away from everybody.”

Delmon Young and Doug Fister were key components to the Tigers’ run to the American League Championship Series. But neither was on the roster before the trading deadline, let alone the start of spring training. If there’s a ray of optimism through the darkness, it’s that Leyland trusts Dombrowski to find a suitable replacement.

“People lose players all the time,” he said. “You don’t want to downplay it, because that’s disrespectful to Victor, but at the same time, you don’t want to keep harping on it. That’s a negative. We’re not going to find Victor Martinez to replace Victor Martinez. We’re not going to find that guy. He’s not out there right now. That would be a total shot in the dark. But we’re going to come up with somebody.”

If possible during this week’s winter caravan, Leyland wants to have an impromptu meeting with his players.

“We can all put our heads down,” he said. “Let’s all feel sorry for ourselves, and 5 minutes from now, let’s look up and get on with our business, because nobody feels sorry for ourselves. The bright side is that this is an opportunity for somebody that wasn’t going to get an opportunity.”

Leyland insists the situation invigorated him. It’s a new challenge, another opportunity to prove the skeptics wrong.

“If we don’t win, I don’t think this will be the reason why we don’t win,” he said. “It’s going to be fun. That’s what competition is. We’re going to be a good team. We’re still a good team. With the team we have, even without Victor, if we pitch like I think we’re capable of, we’re going to be in the hunt.”

Leyland wouldn’t address his specific desires for what the Tigers should do next. But he’ll definitely be in the room when the decisions are made. He wouldn’t delve into the nonsense of whether they should pursue Prince Fielder. He thinks it’s less about the name of the new guy, but rather how well the other 24 players respond to the challenge ahead of them this season.

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