Every year, Americans spend billions of dollars on Christmas gifts for friends, family, and loved ones. Some of these gifts are useful and hold their value for years to come. Others? Well, they may be appreciated for a while, but then they break down. Or we lose interest in them. Or we get something better.
The Tigers have had their fair share of one-off gifts in their history. Some may call them "one year wonders," while others may say they just flamed out. Either way, they are an interesting bunch, the Tigers' 'Island of Misfit Toys' in a way. They span the entirety of Tigers history, right up until the 2014 season.
J.D. Martinez is one of six position players in Tigers history to post a season with 4.0 rWAR or more, but accumulate fewer than 10.0 career WAR. The others -- ranging from Billy Lush in 1903 to Milt Cuyler and Chad Kreuter in the early 1990s -- all posted career-best seasons with the Tigers in otherwise forgettable careers.
Lush spent just one of his seven professional seasons with the Tigers. A career .249/.360/.332 hitter, Lush hit .274/.379/.390 with 18 doubles and 14 triples for the Tigers in 1903. He played in 119 of the team's 136 games, accumulating 528 plate appearances. He led the American League with 34 sacrifice hits, and was considered an above average defensive outfielder. Lush followed up his career-best season with 3.0 WAR for the Cleveland Naps in 1904.
Wingo made his MLB debut with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1919, but only appeared in 15 games. He did not join the Tigers until 1924. In 1925, Wingo hit .370/.456/.527 with 34 doubles and 10 triples. His .370 average was fifth in the AL, but third among Tigers outfielders. Teammates Harry Heilmann and Ty Cobb both outhit Wingo that year, at .393 and .378, respectively. Wingo would never come close to his .983 OPS again, accumulating just 1.2 WAR in his final three MLB seasons.
Mayo was an established big leaguer by the early 1940s, but he had the unenviable task of replacing Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer at second base when Mayo joined the Tigers in 1944. He was the best position player on the 1945 championship team. Mayo hit .285/.347/.405 with 10 home runs and 54 RBI that season. He was named an All-Star, won a Gold Glove, and was voted the AL Most Valuable Player by Sporting News. However, he finished second to teammate Hal Newhouser in the official AL MVP voting.
Cuyler was a product of the Tigers' farm system in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was drafted in 1986, made his MLB debut in 1990, and played for the Tigers for six seasons. His best season came in 1991, when he hit .257/.335/.337 with 25 extra base hits in 546 plate appearances. Cuyler also played a solid defensive center field, and finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting.
Kreuter was a journeyman catcher who hit .237/.335/.357 in his 16 season MLB career. He spent four seasons with the Texas Rangers before signing with the Tigers prior to the 1992 season. He took advantage of a career-high 431 plate appearances in 1993, hitting .286/.371/.484 with 15 home runs and 51 RBI. He accumulated 4.1 WAR that year, then a combined 4.3 WAR over the next 10 seasons. Kreuter played for seven different organizations in his career.
We all know what J.D. Martinez did for the Tigers last year, but it remains to be seen if he will be on this list in the future. His swing changes appear legitimate, as there were identifiable signs of improvement even before his breakout with the Tigers. He probably won't hit .315/.358/.553 again, but another three win season with 20-25 home runs doesn't seem to be out of the question. If this is the case, we may just be writing about Martinez being the gift that keeps on giving this time next year.