When news leaked that Victor Martinez might miss all of 2012 with a knee injury, executives from around the AL Center surely weren't doing the ol' Kirk Gibson invisible-chainsaw in giddy excitement. That would be a hideous reaction. But a logical, understandable reaction would be to think "How does this change everything?" The AL Central sure looks a little different now compared to last week, at least.
The cold stats: Victor Martinez was worth 2.9 WAR last year (both kinds!), so if the Tigers replaced him with Ryan Strieby or Scott Thorman, they'd probably lose somewhere around three wins. Which won't happen. They'll almost certainly sign a one-year stopgap like Carlos Peña, Johnny Damon, or Casey Kotchman, and when the Tigers get one of these options, they'll be exactly what they were: the prohibitive favorites of the AL Central.
But that's some cold, unfeeling logic. The brain can take a cold shower while the heart takes over and thinks about a Tigers lineup that's missing Victor Martinez. That lineup suddenly seems so lonely and cold. Is that Delmon Young hitting third? Brandon Inge not hitting ninth? Good gravy. That's the kind of stuff that'll get a GM thinking.
And the other teams in the Central suddenly have a month or two to make moves that they might not have if the Tigers opened the season with the roster they were supposed to.
The Twins didn't just feel sorry for themselves after their season of despondency -- they went out and signed Jamey Carroll, Josh Willingham, and Ryan Doumit. They also signed Jason Marquis -- or he was magnetically drawn to them because of arcane laws of the physical universe that we don't understand yet. They've been going for it the whole time. The Martinez injury isn't likely to change their strategy.
The White Sox traded away Carlos Quentin and Sergio Santos. They can't just CTRL-Z that away, which means they'll likely continue on their merry, rebuilding way. The only thing they might do differently is hire some hackers to redirect all of the browsers in the Tigers' front office to Baseball-Refference.com, a dummy site with dummy stats that indicate Adam Dunn was fantastic last season.
But the other two teams in the Central -- the Indians and Royals -- are busy growing a goatee just so they can play with it in silent contemplation at this new development. The Royals have made a couple of minor moves to shore up their rotation, and they also have a Brandon Walsh/Kelly Taylor thing going on with Yuniesky Betancourt. Other than that, they've been quiet. The Indians have been linked to Carloses Beltran and Peña over the offseason. They missed out on Beltran, and the Tigers might be additional competition for Peña.
I've been trying to put players on the Royals for this entire offseason without the slightest bit of shame. They can use another starting pitcher, I've mentioned one or sixteen times. They could probably use two or three. But they should at least get one. If they had any doubts at all, the Martinez injury should make them a little greedy. They aren't supposed to be contending yet. The window isn't all the way open. But if they can find a pitcher they can control for a couple of years, the new circumstances in the Central might make them a little friskier.
That leaves the Indians, who were the Tigers' main competition last year until they fell apart. To this point, their big move of the offseason has been to harangue the Braves into giving them a free Derek Lowe at RaciallyInsensitiveCon '11. Would they kick Fausto Carmona, Derek Lowe, or Josh Tomlin out of the rotation to make room for Roy Oswalt? If they were pursing Carlos Beltran, would they consider Johnny Damon? Of all the teams in the suddenly different AL Central, the Indians have the most to gain by acting aggressively.
The Tigers are still the favorites in the AL Central, but a Victor Martinez injury is devastating, no matter who they dredge up to replace him. Without doing anything, the other teams in the Central just got a little closer to contention. They just might do something to move a little closer yet.