J.D. Martinez was the first. He certainly won’t be the last.
The smoke that has billowed out of the Detroit Tigers’ front office for the past couple days finally produced fire on Tuesday afternoon, while the team was taking pregame batting practice at Kauffman Stadium: The team traded Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks for three prospects in the first and perhaps toughest move of many to come as the Tigers enter a rebuilding phase.
“Very difficult process for me,” Tigers general manager Al Avila said. “It’s very hard because this is not what we planned to do. We all want to win. We wanted to keep our players but at this point, it’s the best thing for the organization.”
In exchange for Martinez, one of the more feared middle-of-the-order hitters in baseball, the Tigers received infielders Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara and Jose King.
Lugo was ranked as the No. 4 prospect in the Diamondbacks’ farm system and Alcantara No. 15, according to MLBPipeline.com. King is further away but Avila lauded his upside as a reason for inclusion in the deal.
“I would say that we’re very happy with the package that we got,” Avila said.
The package, he said, was good enough to bypass the final 13 days before the July 31 trade deadline in hopes of finding a better deal. At the surface, the deal is tough to judge: Martinez is a proven player and the prospects the Tigers received are little-known.
Lugo, a 22-year old third baseman, has not played above Double-A. Alcantara, a 21-year-old shortstop, has not played above high Class A. And King, an 18-year-old shortstop, has not played above rookie ball.
“We felt this, what we have now, we’re very happy with,” Avila said. “We liked it. To risk going into the last couple of days of the trade deadline to see if something better developed for us was really not that important to us because the deal we got, we felt that it was a good deal.”
The Tigers were likely not going to get a prime return for Martinez, who is due to hit free agency in the off-season. The number of suitors for a rental player with below average defensive skills was not there in a market that is squarely focused on players with team control.
“Unlike what you might see reported, where you think there’s 29 clubs out there knocking the door down, it’s not like that,” Avila said. “The options are somewhat limited and you have to go with the teams that really want the guy or put forth the effort.”
Martinez’s departure is the biggest move in a rebuilding process that began with little to no results last off-season. It will not be the last: Closer Justin Wilson figures to find a new home by July 31, as well, though nothing is imminent on his front, according to Avila.
In four seasons with the Tigers, Martinez realized his potential: He hit .300 with 99 home runs and 285 RBIs.
Because of his long-standing relationship with Avila, then the assistant general manager, the team took a chance on him after the Houston Astros released him before the 2014 season, and it paid giant dividends.
Martinez joins a Diamondbacks (53-39) team in the thick of the National League postseason race as another big bat in an already potent lineup. He leaves the underperforming Tigers with a big hole in the middle of their lineup, postseason chances nearly zero and three young prospects that certainly can’t fill the void of his loss in the short-term.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Avila said. “It’s not a process that we start last week and you end on July 31. … We were hoping that we’d come into this year and really make a good push and have a winning year but that didn’t happen.”
And so there went Martinez, into the Tigers' clubhouse with two bats and his batting helmet, the latest look at an era of baseball prosperity that is closing quickly.
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