The Tigers and right fielder J.D. Martinez have had discussions about a long-term extension, the outfielder himself told MLive.com’s Chris Iott yesterday. “It’s definitely something we’re still talking about,” Martinez said. “It’s something I think both sides are still interested in. We haven’t come to something where we both feel comfortable yet. I love this team. I want to be part of this team. I would love to be a Tiger for life. We’ve just got to see how it goes.”
General manager Al Avila deflected questions when asked about the status of negotiations, speaking highly of Martinez as a player but neglecting to divulge any sort of details into discussions. The Tigers and Martinez have an unresolved arbitration case at present, with Detroit having filed a $6MM salary figure and Martinez having filed an $8MM figure. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz projected a $7.8MM salary for Martinez in 2016 and explained in a full breakdown of Martinez’s arbitration case that most players in his service class coming off 30-homer, 100-RBI seasons ultimately sign multi-year deals, leaving few recent comparables as the two sides work to avoid a hearing.
In previewing the Tigers’ offseason, I raised the subject of a possible Martinez extension, estimating that if Martinez’s remaining arbitration years can be valued in the vicinity of $20MM (give or take a million), a six-year deal that paid him $20-22MM per free-agent season would be a reasonable outcome. Given the open-market contracts we’ve seen for Martinez’s new teammate Justin Upton as well as Jason Heyward and the rumored five-year offer to Yoenis Cespedes from the Nationals, perhaps something on the lower end of that range would be appropriate, considering the fact that Martinez is still two full seasons from reaching the free-agent market. However, having already banked $3MM this past season and slated to earn somewhere around $7MM this season, there’s less urgency for Martinez to take a discount, as he’s already secured a good bit of financial security. Two more seasons like his 2014-15 years would put him in line for a mammoth contract entering what would be his age-30 season. Something in the vicinity of $100MM doesn’t seem unreasonable, if the Tigers believe he can sustain this production. Alternatively, the Tigers and Martinez could pursue a two-year pact that would lock in his remaining arbitration years without extending club control. Lorenzo Cain went that route earlier this week, and we’ve previously seen players such as Ian Desmond and Jordan Zimmermann do the same.
A long-term contract for Martinez is an understandable goal for either side, but it’s more complicated for the Tigers when looking at the team’s long-term payroll. Miguel Cabrera’s eight-year extension kicks in this season, and he’s owed $248MM over the life of that contract. Similarly, Justin Verlander is owed $28MM annually through the 2019 season, Zimmermann will receive $110MM over the next five years ($18MM in 2016-17, $24MM in 2018 and $25MM in 2019-20), and Victor Martinez is owed $18MM in each of the next three seasons as well. The Tigers cannot even be certain what their payroll will look like beyond the 2017 campaign, as it’s not known whether Upton will again test the market by virtue of his contract’s opt-out clause or if he’ll opt into the remaining four years and $88.7MM remaining on his deal at that time. If Upton remains on the payroll, that would mean the Tigers already have a staggering total of roughly $122.175MM committed to five players in 2018, $105.175MM committed to four players in 2019 and $78.175MM committed to three players in 2020. Adding a guaranteed salary for Martinez onto those seasons could put the team in a precarious situation years down the line. If Upton does opt out and sign elsewhere, it becomes easier to envision adding a significant annual salary for Martinez.
Martinez wouldn’t comment on how the Upton signing impacted his chances at landing the long-term deal he seeks, only telling Iott how excited he was to add a bat like Upton’s to their already-impressive lineup. He did, however, tell Iott that he doesn’t want to negotiate an extension during the season, which effectively sets an Opening Day deadline for the two sides to hammer out a long-term pact.