The Houston Astros put J.D. Martinez on waivers just prior to the start of the 2014 season, and he was claimed by the Detroit Tigers. He was called up to the major leagues on April 21, and soon became a regular in the outfield, and more importantly, in the Tigers’ lineup.
In three partial seasons with Houston, Martinez hit .251/.300/.387 with 24 home runs in 975 plate appearances. By the time the 2014 season was over, Martinez hit .315 with an on-base percentage of .358 and an OPS of .921. He slugged 23 home runs, drove in 76 runs, and hit 30 doubles in 480 plate appearances. He had a classic breakout season.
Martinez not only filled a hole in the Tigers’ lineup, batting fifth behind Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, but he finished third among all American League outfielders in batting average, third in OPS, and third in wOBA behind only Mike Trout and Jose Bautista (minimum 400 plate appearances). He enters the 2015 season as the full-time starter in right field.
Entering the 2015 season, Martinez has accrued over three years of major league service time, making him eligible for arbitration for the first time. He previously earned close to the major league minimum while in the major leagues and a minor league salary while in the minor leagues. He spent parts of each season from 2011-2013 in both the majors and the minors, starting last season in Toledo.
To determine the salary of an arbitration eligible player, we look to what other players of similar service time, at the same position are earning. The floor for a starting outfielder who is eligible for arbitration is around $2 million. Giancarlo Stanton earned $6.5 million for the 2014 season in his first season of arbitration eligibility.
Some comparable outfielders in terms of service time in 2014 would include:
|Jon Jay||3.124 years||$3.25 million|
|Josh Reddick||3.050 years||$2.75 million|
|Michael Saunders||3.138 years||$2.3 million|
|Justin Ruggiano||3.019 years||$2.0 million|
|Craig Gentry||3.104 years||$1.85 million|
Andy Dirks earned $1.625 million as a Super Two eligible outfielder, and Don Kelly signed a one year, $1 million contract as a utility player for the 2014 season. Martinez has more service time than Dirks and much more playing time than Kelly, so he would receive a higher salary. Playing time can be taken as an indication of the value that a club places on a player’s services.
If Martinez can put up anywhere near the numbers that he posted in 2014, he will be a big bargain for the salary that he will earn in 2015. The Tigers have him under control for three seasons, as he won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2017 season.
J.D. Martinez is an example of the kind of player that the Tigers need more of on their roster. The club is very top-heavy with veteran players who are in their free agent seasons, earning salaries commensurate with their service time. The fact that there are only four players eligible for arbitration this season is an indication that the club is short on mid-range salaried players.