Tigers’ J.D. Martinez: New deal ‘fair for both sides’

Chris McCosky
The Detroit News
J.D. Martinez arrives in Lakeland and hits the cages Saturday.

Lakeland, Fla. – Tigers right fielder J.D. Martinez characterized contract talks with the Tigers as a “negotiating battle.”

If so, there don’t appear to be any losers. Martinez certainly wasn’t bearing any battle scars upon his arrival in Tigertown Saturday. Nor was general manager Al Avila, whose first order of business Saturday was to rush over to the batting cages and greet Martinez.

“I am excited to be out here,” Martinez said. “It’s a perfect day to come out for my first day.”

Martinez avoided arbitration this year and next year by signing a two-year deal for $18.5 million two weeks ago. The deal allows him to make slightly more money than he might have earned through arbitration in 2016 and 2017, and be eligible to hit free agency at age 30.

“I wouldn’t have signed it if I didn’t think it was a fair deal,” he said. “I think it was fair for both sides.”

He’s correct. The Tigers were initially hopeful of signing Martinez to a longer-term deal, but those plans were scuttled when they committed six years and $132.75 million to Justin Upton in January.

Upton can opt-out of his contract after the 2017 season, so he and Martinez both could hit the market at the same time. But in part because of the two-year deal with Martinez, as well as some other contracts coming off the books in 2018, the Tigers should have plenty of financial flexibility, certainly more than they have now.

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None of that was Martinez’s primary concern.

“That’s the business side of it,” he said. “It comes with the game but I just want to play baseball. As cliché as it sounds, that’s what I love to do. Let the business people take care of that stuff and I will just worry about going out there and hitting and catching the white ball.”

Martinez’s outlook is perhaps a bit more grounded than some others. He was unemployed and looking for a team to take a chance on him after being released by the Astros before the 2014 season.

The Tigers were that team and he has rewarded them by hitting 61 home runs and knocking in 178 runs the last two seasons. He made his first All-Star team last season and won a Silver Slugger award.

Had he won in arbitration, he would have made $8 million for 2016. Now, he will average a little more than $9 million for two years. Maybe he could have scraped out a few more dollars from the Tigers, but why let a possibly contentious contract negotiation ruin the mutual respect he has with the organization?

“I just didn’t want to start the new year off on a negative note by going through arbitration and all that stuff,” he said. “Everything with the Tigers has been positive and that’s the way I want to keep it.

“I didn’t want to have to go through that battle, that whole negotiating process. I just wanted to come to spring training happy.”

That’s exactly what he’s done.

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“Both sides were cool,” he said. “We understood it. There was never any hard feelings toward it on either side. It’s a business. At the end of the day they are trying to save money and we’re trying to get money. That’s the battle.

“They want to save money to go out and get other players. That’s how the game is. It kind of sucks, that part of it. You kind of just want to play for the love and let everything else take care of itself.”

Martinez last season answered the question of whether he was a one-hit wonder. He followed his 23-homer, 76-RBI 2014 season with 38 and 102. He also took a huge leap forward defensively, settling into right field and finishing second in the American League with 15 outfield assists.

At the same time, he’s taking nothing for granted.

“There is always room for growth; I believe in that,” he said. “This game is weird in a sense. The minute you think that you’ve got it figured out, it will humble you real quick. It’ll step on you and make you feel this big (thumb and forefinger an inch apart) again.

“I’m a worker. I never stop. It’s in my blood. If I am not doing something, I feel like I am wasting my life.”

Twitter @cmccosky