DETROIT — When Victor Martinez hurt his left knee during offseason workouts three years ago, the Detroit Tigers responded by signing Prince Fielder.
Now, a huge free agent acquisition like that seems extremely unlikely — but the Tigers are hoping Martinez’s latest injury won’t be quite as serious.
“It’s not the same injury, but I’m still holding my breath,” manager Brad Ausmus said.
Martinez tore the medial meniscus in his left knee last week, and the team said he is scheduled for surgery Tuesday with Dr. James Andrews in Pensacola, Florida. The Tigers said an additional update will be provided then.
Detroit has not announced a timetable for Martinez’s return. The designated hitter, a five-time All-Star, missed the 2012 season after injuring the same knee.
Martinez hit .335 with 32 home runs and 103 RBIs in 2014, and the Tigers signed him to a $68 million, four-year contract. He figured to be a major part of Detroit’s drive to win a fifth consecutive AL Central title, but now the Tigers may face a difficult task if the 36-year-old misses significant time.
General manager Dave Dombrowski said the injury hasn’t altered Detroit’s approach to the offseason — not yet, at least.
“There are no changes in our plans at this time,” Dombrowski said in an e-mail. “We will evaluate that after his surgery.”
When Martinez was injured in 2012, the Tigers responded by signing Fielder to a $214 million, nine-year contract that Jan. 26. He was traded to Texas after two years with Detroit.
This time, Martinez’s injury occurred even later in the offseason, and there aren’t any major power-hitting options left on the free-agent market.
Martinez tore his anterior cruciate ligament before the 2012 season, and he also had surgery to repair the medial and lateral meniscus. Dr. Richard Steadman operated then.
Even if this injury turns out to be less severe, it’s still a jolt to a team whose spot atop the division is looking increasingly precarious. Max Scherzer, the 2013 AL Cy Young Award winner, left as a free agent to sign with Washington, and slugger Miguel Cabrera is coming off right ankle surgery.
Detroit made one big trade this offseason in an attempt to add more power, dealing right-hander Rick Porcello to Boston for Yoenis Cespedes. The Tigers also are hoping for another strong season from outfielder J.D. Martinez, who hit 23 homers in 123 games last year.
But it was the Cabrera-Victor Martinez combination that Detroit could count on for star-level production on a consistent basis, and with spring training only a couple weeks away, it’s not clear when either of them will be at full strength.
Ausmus said the DH spot isn’t the problem going forward. The Tigers can always move another solid hitter like Cespedes or J.D. Martinez to that spot, which would leave room for another outfielder in the starting lineup.
A lot will depend on Cabrera’s health. If he needs to be used as a DH or is out of the lineup entirely, Detroit would have to find someone to play first base, where Victor Martinez has filled in on occasion in the past.
Ausmus said catcher Alex Avila may spend some time at first this spring, and infielder Andrew Romine could also play there. Jordan Lennerton and Aaron Westlake — two non-roster invitees who have never played in the majors — are also potential options.
“From a first base perspective, we’re kind of in a little bit of a holding pattern,” Ausmus said.
So the Tigers will wait until Martinez has surgery, and until they learn more — probably in the next couple weeks — about Cabrera’s prognosis. Then they’ll have a better sense of their predicament.
“You try to make the best of it,” Ausmus said.