It's still a month away from the opening of spring training, but the Detroit Tigers' hopes for an American League Central Division title repeat took a major hit last week.
Switch-hitting designated hitter/catcher Victor Martinez is likely shelved for the coming season after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury to his left knee during a workout session.
Talk about a punch to the stomach.
Not only did Martinez hit .330, belt 12 homers and knock in 103 runs in 2011, but the veteran was a positive influence in the dugout with his leadership skills.
"VMart" also provided the Tigers with another invaluable service: he was Miguel Cabrera's "protection" from hurlers who might pitch around the slugging first baseman.
With Martinez batting behind Cabrera, it was "Which poison do I want to take against these guys?" for opposing pitchers. And since Martinez is a switch-hitter, it caused foes even more problems.
Losing Martinez hurts, no matter the spin Tigers president and general manager Dave Dombrowski and manager Jim Leyland put on the situation.
Dombrowski says he may wait until deep into spring training to make a player move that addresses the problem, if he does anything at all.
That way, he figures, he might be in a better position to make the right move and not bring somebody aboard in a panic situation that might not be the right fit for the team.
Leyland says the club might be able to adequately deal with VMart's absence if the Tigers' pitching comes through, or if other players on the roster step up to fill the void.
Good luck with that thinking. Replacing Martinez with secondary players already on the roster is not going to be the answer.
Bringing in a free agent or making a trade will be the best bet for the Tigers.
Their are some options out there, like free agents Vladimir Guerrero, Casey Kotchman, Hideki Matsui, Cody Ross, Derrek Lee and Raul Ibanez.
Granted, most are aging with their best years behind them. Dombrowski will have to decide which one - if he goes this route - would be the best glue for the Tigers' offensive leak.
Prince Fielder is not likely an option. The Milwaukee Brewers slugger and premier free agent will command too much of a salary for the Tigers to absorb.
Besides, he's a first baseman. Cabrera is firmly entrenched there. And Fielder has said he doesn't want to be a fulltime designated hitter.
One thing is certain: Dombrowski - not known for sitting on his hands when it comes to making player moves - has to do something.
If he doesn't, then the Tigers can kiss their 2012 playoff hopes goodbye.
Craig Remsburg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 251. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.