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Mailbag: The Tigers should give J.D. Martinez a contract extension

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General manager Al Avila revealed that the Tigers have had internal discussions about a possible extension for the talented outfielder.

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

The Major League Baseball season is far-and-away the best six-month stretch of the year, but there is something exciting about the early offseason that can't be replicated during the dog days of summer. Even the madness surrounding the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline is dampened by expectations and real-time performance.

Meanwhile, there is something fun and uninhibited about offseason trade rumors. If in-season trade rumors are a sleek sports car, offseason trade rumors are a souped-up offroad vehicle. There is more freedom involved; even if your general manager blows a hole in the middle of your lineup, he has another four months to patch it up. There is always the anticipation for yet another move to be made, a final piece added to an amorphous puzzle. Sure, January sucks, but by that point we're able to unite against the tyranny of Scott Boras one final time before spring training arrives and hope begins anew.

Then, the appeal of spring training games wear off and you still have three more weeks until the regular season starts. Life isn't fair, kids.

Asking me to predict a free agent contract is akin to asking Harold Reynolds to explain WAR, or how pistons work. My first guess was somewhere between "aunno" and ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, but I imagine that some would consider that sort of effort unsatisfactory for a dude who yammers on like he actually knows things.

But I do know this: Martinez has one chance at a big payday, and it's after the 2017 season. He will be 30 by that point --- 2017 is technically his age-29 season, but his birthday is in August -- and a contract extension with the Tigers all but eliminates that chance at free agency mega-millions. It's going to be difficult to re-sign Martinez this winter, and unless he leaves fat stacks on the table, an extension won't be all that team-friendly for the Tigers. MLB Trade Rumors projects Martinez to earn $7.8 million through arbitration this winter, and the Tigers have historically overpaid slightly to avoid the arduous hearing process.

That's OK, though. Signing long-term, team-friendly deals in the Evan Longoria mold is the trendy way to avoid the madness that is free agency, but it's not the only way to operate. Giving Martinez a contract that is slightly below market rate could give both parties what they want: Martinez would likely appreciate the long-term stability (especially with a GM he has known for much of his life), while the Tigers get their slugger locked up through his prime years.

The fight may not be over dollar amount, but rather the number of years tacked onto the end. Adding cash to the last two arbitration years can take dollars off the back end, but words will be exchanged over whether this hypothetical deal extends for four, five, or six years. Martinez is coming off of a five-win season, one in which he answered "lol" to the pervasive "Is he a fluke?" questions. He will get his; the challenge for the Tigers is to limit that deal to a reasonable length.

So, my earliest of stabs goes as such:

2016: $10 million
2017: $14 million
2018: $16 million
2019: $16 million
2020: $16 million

A total of five years, $72 million seems low, so it might take another year to get a deal done. Adam Jones signed a six-year, $85.5 million after the 2012 season with a similar amount of service time on his ledger, and his résumé was more extensive.

Years of parsing through Dave Dombrowski quotes has me jaded whenever a press conference of this nature occurs, but Al Avila said some encouraging things on Thursday about his team's offseason plans. Among them was Avila's "hope" that the Tigers would acquire two starting pitchers this winter, leaving one rotation spot open for a gauntlet of young arms to fight over.

Competition is a good thing, but only to a point. Having Daniel Norris, Matt Boyd, Michael Fulmer, and others slug it out for one rotation spot sounds great in theory, but a lot of that hinges on who the other four guys in the rotation are. If the Tigers go for broke and acquire two studs, leaving Norris and Boyd/Fulmer/Lobstein as the Porcello and Smyly of 2016, wonderful. If a young starter pitches well enough to earn a spot but is sent down in favor of a mediocre veteran -- alright, let's say it, Alfredo Simon -- then that's a problem.

I think the Tigers realize what they have here, though. Saying that all of those players will compete for a spot is the PC way to handle things, but we all know that Norris is head and shoulders above everyone else in this group. It's basically his job to lose. The Tigers will probably look to sign one starter to a longer-term deal, while adding a second on a one-or-two year contract to hold a spot until Fulmer or another young starter is truly ready to step into the rotation.

Shawn Kelley's 2015 numbers with the Padres are sexy, but I get a very uneasy feeling about signing a guy who used to pitch in the Mariners bullpen. He wasn't bad with the M's, posting a 3.52 ERA and 3.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in four part-time seasons, but a lofty home run rate resulted in a 4.12 FIP.

Kelley's ERA actually jumped when he went to New York, but elevated home run rates don't mix well with that ballpark. He struck out nearly 12 batters per nine innings in two seasons with the Yankees, and maintained that nastiness while nearly halving his walk rate in his lone season in San Diego. The result: a 2.45 ERA, 2.57 FIP, and 1.09 WHIP in 51 1/3 innings.

Kelley likely won't make a ton on the open market, but he's not the slam dunk some see him as, either. He tends to get barreled up frequently -- hence the lofty home run rate -- and one season with a solid walk rate doesn't prove much. Of course, this is nitpicking. Kelley would have been the Tigers' best reliever this season by several metrics, and improving a unit that ranked second-to-last in baseball in strikeout rate is a must. Kelley doesn't need to be the answer, but this is how the Tigers front office should be thinking.