After signing Martinez to a four-year, $50 million contract before the 2011 season, the emergence of Alex Avila meant Martinez spent most of the season as the team's designated hitter as opposed to catching (he started 26 games behind the plate). The Tigers may have overpaid slightly for a DH, but Martinez at least delivered an excellent season, hitting .330/.380/.470, ranking fourth in the AL in batting average and eighth in on-base percentage.
Importantly, the switch-hitting Martinez provided a lefty bat in a lineup that swung too much to the right side with Miguel Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Delmon Young, Austin Jackson, Magglio Ordonez and Ryan Raburn.
If there's good news for the Tigers, there are at least several decent options out there in free agency. One-time Tigers first baseman Carlos Pena could provide a nice alternative, even improving the team's defense if Jim Leyland is willing to shift Cabrera to DH. Pena needs a platoon partner, but did have a .388 OBP and .504 slugging percentage against righties in 2011. Johnny Damon, another ex-Tiger, would also fit in nicely at DH.
The other option is to move Young to his best position -- DH. Getting his glove off the field would be addition by subtraction, and the Tigers could play an outfield of Jackson in center, Brennan Boesch in right, and Raburn and Andy Dirks or Clete Thomas platooning in left. Leyland is one of the best at moving players around the diamond and in and out of the lineup, so if anybody can adapt to a revolving lineup of starters, it's Leyland. Cuban free agent Yoennis Cespedes is another -- more expensive -- possibility. The Tigers have been linked to him from the beginning and they could certainly use more athleticism in the lineup. With Jackson entrenched in center, Cespedes (another right-handed bat) could play right with Boesch handling left.
Still, it's a blow for the Tigers -- although as the Cardinals proved in 2011 with Adam Wainwright, there is no such thing as a lethal blow. I do wonder if this makes it even more likely they'll swing a trade for another starting pitcher, as has been rumored. Matt Garza, anyone?