At his end-of-season press conference on Tuesday, Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila announced that “changes are coming” to the club before the 2017 season, and said that the team is looking to get younger and reduce payroll. Outfielder J.D. Martinez is set to make $11.8 million in 2017 after signing a two-year contract during the 2015-16 offseason. He will be eligible for free agency after the 2017 season, and according to Avila, a contract extension doesn’t seem likely.
“I don’t foresee any talks of a long-term contract at this point,” Avila said on Tuesday. “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.” Martinez would have little financial incentive to sign a long-term extension just one year before hitting free agency, and the Tigers already have several other bloated contracts — including another five years on Justin Upton’s deal — still on the payroll.
If the Tigers decide to offload Martinez’s contract, it would certainly help reduce payroll for 2017. The Tigers were above the luxury tax threshold last season, and offloading a player or two could save them even more than just the value of said deals. Next season is also Martinez’s last before becoming a free agent. If the Tigers were to trade him this offseason, they could land a prospect package that may be more valuable and closer to major league ready than the compensatory draft pick they would receive in 2018 were he to leave via free agency. Either way, it seems highly unlikely that the Tigers will finalize a contract extension with him.
Martinez would be an attractive trade target for any contending team in need of a big bat. Despite spending seven weeks on the disabled list last season due to a fractured elbow, Martinez hit 22 home runs and batted .307/.373/.535 in 517 plate appearances. Since his breakout in 2014, Martinez has been one of the best hitters in baseball. His 143 wRC+ over the past three seasons ranks 13th among qualified hitters, tied with Chicago’s Kris Bryant. Martinez has been a more productive hitter during that stretch than superstars like Robinson Cano, Buster Posey, and Andrew McCutchen.
In the same press conference, Al Avila hinted that he will be paying more attention to the Tigers’ depleted farm system, and trading Martinez would be one way to help do that. A player of his caliber would command a good return in prospects, which will help expedite the revival of the Tigers’ crippled pipeline.
Should the Tigers trade Martinez and not receive a ready-made replacement in return, things would look a bit thin in right field next season. Both Tyler Collins and Steven Moya are out of minor league options, but neither has proven themselves worthy of a starting job. Anthony Gose played his way into the doghouse in 2016, and did nothing to restore the club’s faith in him while in the minor leagues. Prospects like Christin Stewart and Michael Gerber may eventually turn into starting-caliber talents, but are probably a year or two away at this point. The Tigers may also turn to the free agent market for a low-cost stopgap until Stewart or Gerber are closer to major league ready.