The Tigers discussed a long-term contract with J.D. Martinez last offseason before settling on a shorter multi-year pact. Martinez’s two-year, $18.5MM deal allowed the two sides to avoid arbitration, settling the outfielder’s salaries for both his second and third years of arbitration eligibility. With Martinez now just over a year removed from free agency in the 2017-18 offseason, Tigers GM Al Avila will surely re-engage Martinez’s agents at RMG Baseball about an extension that will keep the slugger in the Motor City for years to come.
Martinez missed just under seven weeks due to a fracture in his right elbow, a somewhat fluky injury that interrupted an otherwise outstanding season. He entered Wednesday’s action hitting .317/.384/.556 (all of which would be career highs) with 21 homers over 469 plate appearances, plus his 151 wRC+ ranks among the top ten hitters in the sport in that metric of total batting productivity. He is also on pace for a career-best walk rate, as well as his lowest strikeout rate in four years. Since joining the Tigers as an unheralded minor league signing during Spring Training 2014, Martinez has done nothing but rake, delivering a .907 OPS over 1606 PA in a Detroit uniform.
Martinez expressed an interest in being “a Tiger for life” last winter, though his asking price has surely gone up in the wake of his third straight huge season. He has extra leverage in the form of financial security (over $21.5MM in career earnings by the end of next season) and the fact that he’d be in line for a monster contract in the 2017-18 free agent market. If he duplicates his 2014-16 numbers, JDM will have the most earning potential of any hitter in that year’s free agent class. Carlos Gonzalez has a longer track record but he is two years older than Martinez and hasn’t been as impressive of late; the Royals trio of Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas can’t be considered locks for huge money based on their problems in 2016; Justin Upton has also struggled this season and may not choose to opt out of his own contract with the Tigers next winter.
Upton’s situation looms as a major factor in the talks between Martinez and the Tigers. Upton has only recently started to hit after a dreadful first half, so he’d need a big rebound year in 2017 to consider opting out. If he chooses to remain in his contract, the Tigers will owe Upton $88.5MM through the 2021 season. That is a sizeable chunk of payroll that, based on this year’s numbers, Detroit would surely prefer to allocate towards keeping Martinez in the fold.