Henning: Trade market changes and Tigers pay for it

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Third baseman Dawel Lugo is two years away from the majors, according to Tigers general manager Al Avila.

Judging from gasps you could hear from the Mackinac Bridge to the Windsor Tunnel, as well as from social-media bombardments, not many Tuesday night were thrilled at news J.D. Martinez was traded by the Tigers in a July deal that was pretty much inevitable and pretty much inevitably infuriating.

Martinez was shipped to the Diamondbacks for three infield prospects: Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King. The players are young and hardly dramatic adds to a Tigers farm system aching for youth and position help.

Lugo is 22, bats right-handed, can play several infield positions, including third base, and is headed for Double A with the Tigers not expecting much until 2019.

Alcantara turned 21 last week, is a switch-hitter who can play anywhere in the infield’s middle, and is a guy the Tigers say will play in the big leagues, either as a regular or as a utility man.

King is only 18, bats left-handed, and has, in the Tigers scouts’ estimation, “70 speed,” which means he’s blazing when scouts’ scorecards top out at 80.

Here’s a look at the newest Tigers prospects

It’s not a great parcel. Not by any means.

And yet it was all so predictable.

J.D. Martinez is three months from free agency. He was not getting a massive extension from the Tigers, who are paying heavy penalties for their past splurges and who couldn’t justify $100 million, or something not far from it, for a man who turns 30 next month and who is most definitely a terrific hitter but a low-key defender.

Only one serious bidder

The problem, as the Tigers discovered, last autumn when Martinez was all but put on eBay, is there was a shriveled-up market for even a hitter as dangerous as Martinez.

This was not 2015 when Yoenis Cespedes was being shopped by the Tigers. Cespedes was a player who had a glove and a penthouse-level arm. Bidders were going to pay a premium. And, at the last moment, Dave Dombrowski was able to get the guy he wanted, Michael Fulmer.

Sergio Alcantara

Differences this July were in effect, and not only because Tigers general manager Al Avila was doing the dealing rather than Dombrowski.

The Tigers found few customers. As few as they had encountered last offseason.

The Diamondbacks were the only serious bidders. And they had made clear they were headed elsewhere if they couldn’t get a deal done this week for Martinez.

The Tigers decided on a trio of prospect infielders they like at least 100 percent more than fans. And probably more than unnamed scouts who told people such as Yahoo.com’s Jeff Passan the Tigers’ return was light.

In fact, the market has flipped during the past year. Unless you have youngsters to shop that Dombrowski now has in bushels in Boston, or big-league players who have contracts that pay about what your lawn-service crew makes, as has been the happy fate for the White Sox as they’ve spun a host of swaps, you’re not making a lot of trades in 2017.

Wilson should do better

Not ones the local customers will appreciate.

Avila will do better when he spins off Justin Wilson, as is all but a certainty ahead of the July 31 door-closing on non-waiver deals.

Wilson is a hot ticket. The price, in fact, could go higher for him, although with more teams like the Orioles now deciding to offload talent and begin glancing to 2018, the market could begin to slip even for a pitcher of Wilson’s prowess.

Alex Avila will fetch, pound for pound, more than back-up catchers typically get in deadline deals.

But that’s about it, unless Avila gets a roster-rocket of an offer for Michael Fulmer, or works out some kind of deal for Justin Verlander that bags a handsome prospect as compensation for the Tigers picking up millions and millions of bucks on Verlander’s remaining deal.

Avila might as well get accustomed to this. Fans are of a mind that the Tigers’ ability to make shrewd trades disappeared when Dombrowski was fired 24 months ago and two weeks later headed for a nice office at Fenway Park as the Red Sox’s new general.

They got comfortable with a different baseball model during those days when a team contended, games at Comerica Park were a kind of summer theater, and Octobers brought to Detroit a passion you can find only in a playoff series.

That team is all but gone, all because it had its run. A farm system that helped fuel those big years in downtown Detroit was also raided as trades and forfeited free-agent draft picks wiped out so much of what could now be helping this team resurrect.

It left a team opting Tuesday to accept as ransom for Martinez three infield replacements that aren’t going to draw much audience applause. Not now, even when infield prospects with big-league upside are no-shows at just about every level of the Tigers’ minors.

It left Avila as a fan base’s increasingly handy punching bag. And that’s not likely to change, not in this market, not at this point in a big-league team’s reconstruction as some tough transition years take shape.

The reality is other teams are steering clear of contract money and hording hot prospects. The reality, as Avila confirmed Tuesday in making a deal no one this side of Arizona liked, is not nearly enough of those same clubs were interested in a light-fielding, big-hitting Tigers outfielder three months from playing elsewhere.