On March 22nd, 2014, J.D. Martinez was released by the Houston Astros. On March 24th, 2014, the Detroit Tigers signed Martinez. Since donning a Tigers uniform, Martinez has become an elite hitter. He was named to the All-Star team this year and earned his first Silver Slugger. By changing his stance at the plate. Martinez has turned himself into one of the most feared right-handed hitters in baseball and set himself up for a hefty payday. He's due to reach free agency after the 2017 season, which means the Tigers need to be proactive and extend Martinez this offseason.
Before diving into the statistics, which should alleviate any concerns that Detroit might have about handing Martinez a lucrative contract extension, it's important to note the changes in his mechanics.
After looking at these two images just once, it should be immediately apparent that Martinez made drastic changes between his time with Houston and Detroit. The most noticeable difference is that he's eliminated his open stance and moved to a much more traditional stance. Martinez has also changed the positioning of his hands, as they now rest below his head, whereas with the Astros they were raised high up and nearly level with his eyes.
By watching both videos of his swing, which can be viewed here and here, it's clear that Martinez also altered his timing mechanism. With Houston, he relied on a toe tap and would then cock his hands back in preparation for the pitch. With Detroit, Martinez's swing is much more fluid as he utilizes a leg kick.
These changes have led to a fundamentally different version of Martinez, and one that can be counted as an everyday threat in the lineup for years to come.
|2011||6||5.8 %||21.2 %||.149||.325||.323||103||1.1|
|2012||11||9.1 %||21.9 %||.134||.290||.303||88||-1.0|
|2013||7||3.2 %||26.5 %||.128||.319||.284||75||-1.2|
|2014||23||6.3 %||26.3 %||.238||.389||.391||153||4.0|
|2015||38||8.1 %||27.1 %||.253||.339||.372||137||5.0|
Other than his strikeout rates, which have remained relatively consistent over the last three years, Martinez's statistics have all improved since making his swing changes. He's walking more than he ever has, his ISO has reached elite levels, and according to fWAR he's been the 23rd-most valuable player in major league baseball since the start of the 2014 season.
His increased production has also shown up in other areas, such as the type of contact he's making and batted ball distances.
|Soft%||Med%||Hard%||Batted Ball Distance|
On average, Martinez drove fly balls, line drives, and home runs 13 feet farther in 2015 than he did in his best year with Houston. He's making much harder contact and has seen his fly ball percentage skyrocket to 43.5 percent, a 27.6 percent increase from 2013.
After two consecutive seasons of All-Star level production, the Tigers should be convinced that Martinez isn't a fluke, but rather a late bloomer. As a result of his drastically improved play, one of Al Avila's priorities this offseason should be to lock Martinez into an extension. However, if Martinez is unwilling to negotiate or asking for an unreasonable amount of money, the Tigers should make the difficult decision to trade him to the highest bidder.
Since the 2012 season, the Tigers have ranked in the top five of opening day payrolls and the top ten since 2007. That financial power has helped them lock up high profile players like Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Victor Martinez, and Anibal Sanchez. Unfortunately for Detroit, their former GM, Dave Dombrowski, committed a lot of future money to those four players, which could dramatically affect their ability to retain current players as well as sign free agents.
According to Spotrac, these are the following players signed to the Tigers for multiple seasons. (A * means that year's salary is a club option and ** means it's a vesting option.)
Dombrowski has gone to Boston, but the Tigers are left to deal with the issues he created (like the Prince Fielder money) while still operating under the win-now directive from owner Mike Illitch.
Brandon Crawford recently signed a 6-year extension for $75 million, and while the situations are different for various reasons (including completely different positions), Detroit should use that contract as a reference for Martinez. He's seven months younger than Crawford, but both players were set to reach free agency two years from now. The Tigers could offer Martinez an extension that would buy out his final two years of arbitration and the first four years of his free agency, potentially with some type of option for a seventh year.
While Martinez would undoubtedly be passing up fair market value for his services, a 6-year guaranteed deal in the neighborhood of $100-110 million seems reasonable. Agents often talk about how difficult it is to convince a player to walk away from that much money, and Martinez may be receptive to securing his future now. In recent memory, Ian Desmond turned down a reported seven-year extension worth $107 million, and now he's looking to rebuild his value.
Before the Tigers make decisions on free agents, they must take care of Martinez's situation. He's proven over the last two years that he's a premium power hitter in an era of down offense, and Detroit should do everything they can, within reason, to make him a part of their long-term future. However, if he's unwilling to negotiate, or his demands are too high, Avila should capitalize on his considerable value by trading him for a bevy of top prospects.
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Matt Goldman is a Featured Writer with Beyond the Box Score and a Contributing Editor at MLB Daily Dish. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheOriginalBull.