“Maybe everything that dies someday comes back”
When the Tigers finally arrived to Progressive Field on Monday afternoon, their unexpectedly long Boston layover behind them, Victor Jose Martinez arrived with them.
Nine years old, husky and happy as ever, “Little Vic,” as he’s come to be known, has spent countless hours at that ballpark, following faithfully in the footsteps of his famous dad and immersing himself daily in the pregame rituals of a sport he clearly loves. But on this day, he was wearing an aqua T-shirt bearing the name of a basketball player:
“Uhoh,” his dad said with a laugh. “He doesn’t know any better!”
We’ll forgive the transgression, because Victor Jose still has Cleveland in his heart, much like his old man. And that leads to a conversation that, while taking place obnoxiously early, is worth bringing up on the day the Indians activate a 43-year-old Jason Giambi off the disabled list for the second time in the young season.
Could Victor Martinez, a pending free agent, reunite with the Indians this winter?
Martinez, for one, is intrigued by the possibility.
“Anything can happen in this game,” he said. “It would be special. The Indians were so great to me and my family. I’ve got three kids. The first two were born here. It would be special, but we’ll see.”
Alas, there are a couple obvious obstacles to this potential reunion:
1. The finances. The way Indians aren’t exactly drowning in dough, and Martinez’s incredible production at this early stage of the season points to a proper pay day that might be out of their reach, particularly given his defensive limitations and the value Terry Francona, like the majority of AL managers today, places on flexibility with the DH spot.
2. The compensation issue. It’s simply not a free and open market for guys tied to Draft pick compensation, and, the way things are looking, the Tigers would have every incentive to extend a qualifying offer to V-Mart. This would likely be a deal-breaker for the Indians, given their evergreen need to stock the system. The only solution is not a satisfying one: If the Indians finish the season with one of the 10 worst records in baseball, their first-round pick would be protected. (Right now, only five MLB teams are off to a worst start than the Tribe.)
So, yeah, those are some big hurdles, and, as we’ve seen with Nick Swisher and Michael Bourn so far, post-prime position players can be an awfully inefficient area in which to do business, especially at a time when so many teams are starved for offense.
Where the Victor possibility lives, then, is purely on the sentimental side.
Who knows? Maybe that’s enough. Per Baseball Reference, he’s made nearly $73 million in his career, and, knowing how much this team and this town means to him (he still leaves tickets every home series to his host family from his Mahoning Valley Scrappers days) the incentive to finish his career where it began might be a strong one. Of all my memories from the years I’ve been around this team, that image of Victor Jose sitting on his daddy’s lap and the two of them crying at his locker on the day he was traded (Victor Jose had asked that morning, “Are we still an Indian?”) remains the most distinct.
The Tribe’s decision to trade Martinez and Lee in July ’09 — one year and two months prior to their free-agent eligibilities — is still a source of fascination to me, and not because the Lee trade has netted them literally less than nothing (combined Cleveland WAR of Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson and, um, Jason Knapp: 2.0; Lee’s WAR from August 2009 to the end of ’10: 5.9).*
*By the way, if you’re really into the WAR game (generally speaking, I’m not, but it’s an easy way to get away with analyzing complex situations), Victor’s WAR in his one year and two months with Boston was 6.1, while Justin Masterson’s WAR in three full and two partial seasons with the Indians, so far, is 7.5.
The reason it’s fascinating is because, in the grand scheme, it wasn’t that long ago, and yet the sport has fundamentally changed enough in that short span that it’s hard to imagine a team in the position the Indians were in at that point making moves of a similar magnitude today. Punting not only on a current season but the following season, now that there are two Wild Cards, a bigger influx of national TV money and a greater sense of competitive balance, would be inconceivable (at least, to me), even in this market.
And yes, to some, it was inconceivable back in 2009, too.
Anyway, that’s all analysis of the rearview. The real focus here is speculation about the future, which is probably more fun. And the basic point is that perhaps Victor’s sentimentality is strong enough to lead to a reunion.
And hey, while we’re at it, maybe LeBron will come back, too.