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MLB trade rumors: The Tigers should trade J.D. Martinez

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This one is obvious given how the team has played lately.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Detroit Tigers Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The headline probably doesn’t surprise you much. The possibility of the Detroit Tigers trading J.D. Martinez at or near the 2017 MLB trade deadline and the surrounding debate has been on the minds and tongues of many Tigers fans lately.

It’s easy to see why.

The Tigers are middling, caught between the bottom-feeders whose seasons are lost causes and the showy ones at the top who lead their divisions.

Martinez made his season debut on May 13 and has hit 12 home runs since. His contract is up at the end of the season, so the Tigers have a few options. Trade him during the season, keep him until the end of the season and sign him as a free agent, or keep him until the end of the season and lose him to another team for nothing but a compensatory draft pick — and not until at least the fourth round, because the Tigers’ 2017 payroll is over the luxury tax limit.

One mindset is that the Tigers should wait until the trade deadline to decide whether to trade Martinez, based on the team’s win-loss record when the time comes. I am of another mindset: they should trade him regardless.

The Tigers are perfectly capable of hitting without Martinez.

Last season, from June 17 to Aug. 2 (when Martinez was injured) the team hit better than from Aug. 3 to Sept. 18 (I chose that date so that it’s the same length of time). Here’s a chart with the breakdown:

Detroit Tigers with and without J.D. Martinez

Date range Hits Singles Doubles Triples Home runs Runs scored Strikeouts Batting average
Date range Hits Singles Doubles Triples Home runs Runs scored Strikeouts Batting average
June 17 - Aug 2 360 248 46 9 57 197 302 .263
Aug 3 - Sept 18 372 250 69 3 50 163 327 .255
Fangraphs.com

While the team had more hits overall after Martinez’s return, more of them were singles and doubles rather than triples and home runs, so fewer runs were scored in the process. Every other statistic besides hits, singles, and doubles was better before Martinez returned than after.

A few prospects or a major-league-ready player would be better than a fourth-round draft pick.

It’s unlikely Detroit would get a return comparable to the Yoenis Cespedes deal at the 2015 trade deadline when the Tigers acquired Michael Fulmer and Luis Cessa from the New York Mets. That said, Martinez would be among the best hitters on the trading block, if not the best. And he’d fetch a higher return than most, despite injury concerns, because of his consistency. Martinez has hit over 20 home runs and 30 doubles in every season with Detroit, going back to 2014. He crushed a career high of 38 home runs two years ago.

The Tigers would benefit more from a higher level prospect or two, or a lower MLB-ready player than they would from a fourth round draft pick. It would be one thing if we were talking about a first or even second round pick. But fourth round? That’s pushing it.

As of 2012, only 32 percent of players drafted in the third through fifth rounds make it to the major leagues. That’s less than one out of every three. And while that number may have changed in the last five years, the point remains that any player taken after the second round is quite a risk. (For those interested, 66 percent of first-round picks and 49 percent of second-round picks play in the majors at some point in their careers). You also have to consider how much playing time those draft picks will get in the majors. Are we talking about a cup of coffee? The lower the pick, the less likely the player is to stick around in MLB.

So if the Tigers aren’t a true playoff contender, they should at least try to get the best value out of players like Martinez.

Tigers owner Chris Ilitch and general manager Al Avila have many difficult decisions to make in the next five weeks.

It’s abundantly clear Detroit needs to do something. The “team” really doesn’t feel like much of a team, and it’s as if the players have managed to remove all joy from the beautiful game of baseball.

Whether the Tigers ultimately rebuild or not is a huge decision to make, made up of a bunch of smaller decisions like this. So while Ilitch and Avila have the final say, the Martinez situation seems to be a no-brainer. It’s time to deal him.