Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo, and Lynn Henning break down the move already made and the moves to come for the Detroit Tigers at the MLB trade deadline. Tom Gromak
Detroit — You might understand what the Tigers did, trading away popular slugger J.D. Martinez, but that doesn’t mean you have to enjoy it. Selling off prime assets is supposed to hurt, and the Tigers just delivered some pain.
Gone is one of the premier power-hitters in the game, off to chase a title in Arizona. Arriving are three prospects from the Diamondbacks, an underwhelming group headlined by 22-year-old third-baseman Dawel Lugo, who’s probably two years from being major league-ready. The other two infielders — Sergio Alcantara, 21, and Jose King, 18 — aren’t rated as prime prospects.
On initial inspection, the return for Martinez looks disappointingly light, and some experts around baseball agree. If this is the first of several tests this month for GM Al Avila, he won’t get immediate congratulations. Lugo is the highest-ranked guy and he’s not on any top-100 lists, and isn’t even Arizona’s top guy, rated No. 2 in their system by Baseball America.
Tears were shed as Avila informed Martinez — a longtime friend of the Avila family — of the trade Tuesday in Kansas City. Avila rightly removed emotions from the deal and reacted to what apparently is a soft market for sellers. Now that the sell-off has begun, you hope Avila gets considerably more for prized pieces, especially lefty closer Justin Wilson, who reportedly is drawing significant interest.
Do you wish owner Christopher Ilitch had overlooked financial logic and found a way to keep Martinez, as Mike Ilitch might have done? Of course. But there’s a cost that can’t be ignored forever, as the Tigers carry the fourth-highest payroll in the majors, while scrapping to stay out of last place.
Jumping the gun?
Plenty of people have craved a rebuild, understandably so, and sorry, this is what you get. This is the downside we knew was possible as the July 31 deadline approached. It’s how the buy-sell game works, and the Tigers often have been on the other side. Now they suffer the short-term pain with the hope of long-term gain, and there are no guarantees.
You can dislike the trade, but you can’t really hate the concept of the trade, with the Tigers on the outer fringes of contention and Martinez due to become a free-agent. It makes business sense, although it wasn’t a great market for a rental outfielder, and as good as Martinez’s numbers are — 16 home runs and a staggering 1.018 OPS — his defense is suspect, and he has dealt with injuries the past couple seasons.
It was unrealistic to expect a huge return, but you can’t shake the nagging notion Avila perhaps leapt too soon. Maybe he feared the Diamondbacks would go shopping for someone else in the next two weeks. Maybe he was concerned an injury would flare up (Martinez was removed from the game Monday night as a precaution against lower-back tightness). Or maybe Avila is finding trade-deadline dealing a bigger challenge than his predecessor, Dave Dombrowski, made it look.
It was Dombrowski who set such a high standard two years ago when he traded Yoenis Cespedes and David Price at the deadline and landed Michael Fulmer, Daniel Norris and Matthew Boyd. Cespedes, like Martinez, was a slugging outfielder set to become a free agent. He also was a more-complete star.
Pain of surrender
Those deals probably aren’t a fair comparison in the current climate, with many contending teams seemingly set at key positions. That’s why possible trades involving Wilson, Justin Verlander or Alex Avila, son of the GM, are equally fraught with danger and emotion.
“It’s very hard, because this is not what you plan to do,” Al Avila told reporters before the game in Kansas City. “We all want to win. We want to keep our players. But at this point, it’s the best thing for the organization.”
It’s the best thing if he got the best possible return, which is impossible to know. It’s hard to gauge prospects and measure the merits of such a trade, but for the Tigers, it’s hard to feel like winners on a day like this. Martinez, 29, was the perfect teammate, humble and dedicated and extraordinarily fan-friendly.
It’s officially a new day in Detroit, and for many fans, a sad day. It’s the first sign of surrender, and even when something seems inevitable, it can be hard to take. It’s especially hard for the Tigers, who plucked Martinez from the Astros’ scrap heap more than three years ago and helped make him a star.
“I love this team, I love this organization, I love the fans,” Martinez said. “I love everything in Detroit. That’s home for me.”
Home is where the hurt is. It hurts him to leave, and it hurt the Tigers to let him go. The harsh truth is, rebuilds are supposed to be painful, and ache is unavoidable.