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Henning: Martinez trade a sign of Tigers' moves to come

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
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Tigers closer Justin Wilson has been mentioned in several trade rumors in the past week.

Folks who follow the Tigers, some of them anyway, had begun to calm just a tad Wednesday as the reality of J.D. Martinez’s trade to Arizona began to be fully digested.

Others weren’t so sanguine: The Tigers should have gotten more. Al Avila should have waited. This was a giveaway for garbage.

It’s a reasonable debate. And certain realities are worthy of rehashing as the Tigers next prepare to trade Justin Wilson, Alex Avila, and perhaps others.

Avila is the Tigers general manager whose great mistake was to take on a team with a Goodyear blimp for a payroll and a baseball market no longer disposed to investing in dirigibles.

He had one serious bidder for Martinez: the Diamondbacks, who made it clear they were moving onward and upward if they couldn’t immediately trade for a rental player (Martinez is three months from free agency) who could help them now as opposed to two weeks from now, after the July 31 trade deadline has passed.

This was, frankly, not much of a surprise, this tepid treatment of Martinez.

Wojo: J.D. Martinez trade painful for Tigers, but inevitable

The Tigers had advertised him last offseason and found no satisfying interest. Part of the reason was that a market, which in many years has been starved for right-handed power, suddenly found itself with a glut.

The other reason is likewise tied to recent trends.

Analytics gurus finally came to appreciate how much good outfield defenders could change a game. Martinez is not quite average as an outfielder, even on his best days. Add to the fact most teams weren’t hunting hard for a bat and most weren’t willing to forfeit defense for such a bat, particularly with free agency on the horizon, and Martinez loomed well before July as a guy the Tigers might be forced to live with.

Not that having Martinez’s booming bat in the lineup was a serious cross to bear. The problem was in how free-agent compensation has changed in the past seven months.

No waiting game

Before a new owners-players deal was cut last December, a team such as the Tigers could make Martinez a handsome one-year offer ahead of his free-agent job safari. And if he signed with another team, the Tigers would get a very enticing draft pick, either in the first round or in the so-called sandwich round that followed.

Now, that same draft pick, depending upon your status and payroll, is fairly lousy — third or fourth round or in the vicinity.

You aren’t going to find a lot of sure big-league help at that point in the draft. Thus, it was better for a Tigers team that has too many cardboard cutouts performing as position players throughout a ravaged farm system to get multiple prospects, some of whom have at least a chance to reach the big leagues.

The Tigers believe they got at least two in the three middle infielders who were shipped to Detroit Tuesday. Note, particularly, that the primary guy, Dawel Lugo, is viewed by the Tigers as a probable big-league starter at third base.

You might see the connection here. It suggests Nick Castellanos, who is becoming one of the best hitters in baseball, is headed soon to first base, or to designated hitter, or more likely to some combination of each spot in tandem with Miguel Cabrera.

The other guys are more marginal. Sergio Alcantara looks like an eventual utility infielder in Detroit, one with an extremely good glove and arm. The third throw-in, Jose King, is 18 years old and probably should be sprinting in the Olympics rather than trying to play baseball.

The Tigers, though, liked the upside as much as his Billy Hamilton-grade speed.

And that’s how deals get done. Waiting, in Avila’s view, could have diminished even Arizona’s uninspiring trade package, especially as more teams (Orioles, with the Royals likely to follow) decide to face facts and become sellers.

So, one trade down, and at least a couple more to go for a Tigers club trying to put some legitimate big-league blood and bones in its low-calorie farm culture.

More deals coming

It is all but guaranteed fans snorting at the Martinez trade return will snort more softly once Wilson is dealt. The reason is simple. Teams, in multiples, are looking for the brand of bullpen help Wilson can provide two years before he hits free agency.

The Tigers will get a nice return on Wilson, even if fans don’t believe anything will have been worth trading the team’s first pleasing closer since Hal Newhouser pitched complete games.

It’s hard to say when the Wilson deal will come down. Today? Tonight? Twelve days from now, just before the clock strikes 4 p.m.? Avila can wait this one out, if he so chooses, or decide he got exactly what the team could optimally have expected to get from one of the contenders dreaming of having a left-hander with Wilson’s guile locked into its late-innings options.

Henning: Trade market changes and Tigers pay for it

Alex Avila, too, will earn more of a trade return than is commonly associated with backup catchers. There are multiple teams intrigued by Avila, given his power, his X-ray vision in assessing balls and strikes, and his handy dandy ability to also play first base.

That leaves a couple of pitchers for consideration. And for infuriation.

■ Justin Verlander: It’s still 50-50, at best, he’ll be dealt. But be ready for the old 1 a.m. bar-close allure to kick in here. He will be of heavy interest, and even heavier if the Tigers decide to defray some of that remaining $56 million on his contract, which Avila will do if a team provides proper nutrients for the Tigers farm.

■ Michael Fulmer (please — high-decibel howling can hurt one’s ears): I don’t see how the Tigers don’t trade him. Doesn’t matter if it’s this month, or the offseason. But in order for this team to have something other than a Chernobyl baseball experience at Comerica Park during the next decade, they’ll need lots and lots of vital baseball bodies in the lineup and on the pitchers’ manifest. And that isn’t achievable, not in this view, unless they get a fresh freight load of three or four young stars, which is what the price will be for Fulmer.

But, the howlers howl, how do you build a team minus the kind of ace Fulmer stands to be?

Very simply. You plug another good young pitcher into his slot, which is the kind of young gun who figures to be one-third or one-fourth of that trade package. You then aren’t confined to pitching Fulmer every fifth day and wondering what you’re going to do the other four.

You have something approaching a competitive nucleus delivered in great part because you spun Fulmer for multiple blue-chip youngsters.

So, this is going to happen, it seems, at some point. It probably doesn’t occur this month. But a GM who took on the equivalent of a Love Canal clean-up when he agreed to take on the Tigers at this juncture knows what must be done.

A lot of trades must be completed. The easy ones (Wilson, Avila) probably happen fairly immediately. Others might wait.

But they’re coming, for sure, if baseball in Detroit during the ensuing years is to be something other than a prelude to the Lions beginning summer camp.


Twitter: @Lynn_Henning

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