GM Al Avila made headlines earlier this week when he stated that changes were on the horizon for a Tigers team that “has been working way above its means for some time,” thereby implying that payroll needs to decrease, and he also added that the Detroit roster needs to get younger. While that doesn’t mean the Tigers will ship off cornerstones Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, it does call into question the future of some players who are nearing the end of their time with the team, including J.D. Martinez, whom Avila says isn’t likely to be extended this winter, according to Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press.
“I don’t foresee any talks of a long-term contract at this point,” Avila said of Martinez. “In saying that, we’re going to keep an open mind in what possibilities come across this winter, this coming summer. I’m not going to rule out that we wouldn’t consider a long-term deal, but sitting here today, we’re not thinking that way right now.”
An extension of Martinez, who is slated to become a free agent next winter, would represent yet another $100MM+ commitment for the Tigers given the extent to which the 29-year-old has blossomed since signing in Detroit. Martinez has batted a combined .299/.357/.540 over the past three years and averaged 34 homers per 162 games played along the way. He missed nearly two months of the 2016 season with a fracture in his elbow but was improbably even better after his time on the DL, slashing .332/.392/.553 with 10 homers over his final 232 plate appearances (albeit with the help of an unsustainable .418 BABIP).
MLBTR’s Mark Polishuk recently examined the possibility of a Martinez extension, noting that his age and emergence as an offensive force could push his price point beyond the six-year, $132.75MM figure for which Justin Upton signed last winter (depending on whether or not the Tigers and Martinez’s agents worked an opt-out clause into the deal). That number may look jarring for a player who was released by Houston in Spring Training 2014, but since Opening Day 2014, Martinez rates as the game’s 13th-best hitter by measure of wRC+ (via Fangraphs), placing him alongside the likes of Giancarlo Stanton, Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista and Kris Bryant. His defense, as Mark addressed in the aforementioned Extension Candidate piece, is another story, but Martinez’s bat comes with tremendous value.
As such, the possibility of Martinez’s entrance into the trade market this offseason shouldn’t be taken lightly. Fenech speculates that Martinez is the likeliest member of the Tigers to be traded this winter, as doing so would trim $11.75MM off the payroll and net the team some much-needed premium minor league talent. The Tigers, after all, have a pair of young outfielders that are out of minor league options next year in Steven Moya and Tyler Collins, both of whom will need to make the Opening Day roster or risk being exposed to outright waivers. Dealing Martinez would free up a much clearer path to a big league opportunity for either player.