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.
Kansas City, Mo. — Whatever emotions the Tigers players and coaches felt Tuesday when word came that J.D. Martinez had been traded to the Diamondbacks — sadness at losing a beloved and productive teammate, frustration at the organization for weakening the team, concern over their own immediate future — had to be tempered with one cold, hard truth.
It’s partly their fault. They were given a long stay of execution and could have at least delayed general manager Al Avila’s sell-off plans.
“I knew that with J.D. being a free agent and by us not winning, we were backing Al into a corner,” manager Brad Ausmus said. “Because to keep J.D., you would essentially get almost nothing for him once he became a free agent.”
Avila has been forthright about his intentions since last winter, when he announced that the club would have to adjust its business model, it would have to rely more on acquiring and developing young talent and less on buying big-money free agents.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Avila said. “It’s not like you started last week and it ends July 31. The process actually started last winter, though it didn’t reach fruition. I thought we’d go into the year, make a push and have a winning season. That didn’t happen.”
He gave the nucleus of this team, which has been in gradual decline since the end of 2014, one last hurrah. When the club got to San Diego on June 23, they were in the throes of an eight-game losing streak and would sink all the way to 10 games under .500.
Avila announced on that day, his phone lines were open and he was taking offers.
“As a manager, it probably affects me more than anybody,” Ausmus said Tuesday night. “But we also have to look ourselves in the mirror. If we were in first place it wouldn’t have happened. We have to be accountable, too, and I have to be accountable as the manager.
“If we were 10 games over .500, we would not be in this position. In some ways, we forced Al to make a move.”
Martinez said he was grateful to Avila for not peddling him away before the season, but he knew his days were numbered when the team faltered on that West Coast trip at the end of June.
“That was a big road trip for us,” Martinez said. “If we’d have won there, that could have changed Al’s whole idea about which way he wanted to go. I think that series really turned the tables. He made it clear after that that he was open. Like I said, Al is like a father to me and I love Detroit and this organization, and I would love to finish my career here.
"But Al is doing what's best for the organization and I respect that.”
Trading Martinez went from being inevitable at the end of June to a certainty during the All-Star break. Avila said the tenor of the calls from other organizations changed. There was more urgency, but there were only two teams that produced serious offers — Arizona and Cleveland.
“We started the process early, but not because we were pushing our players — we weren’t pushing anything,” Avila said. “We were listening. And that gave us enough time to really do our homework and dig through the prospects that we like, and also weed out the teams that were just checking it out from the teams that really had interest.”
Avila said he was bemused by media reports citing Martinez as the most sought after bat on the trade market.
“If you see what’s reported, you might think there were 29 clubs out there knocking the door down – it wasn’t like that,” Avila said. “The options were somewhat limited. You have to go with the teams that you feel really want to deal and are willing to put forth the effort to get him.”
Avila was asked repeatedly why he didn’t wait a week or so to see if a better deal developed.
“We like this package,” he said. “To risk going to the last couple of days before the deadline to see if something better develops for us wasn’t that important because the deal we got is a good deal.”
Later, he added: “We definitely didn’t want to wait until the end and miss out on something. We felt, once we got comfortable with what we’re going to get, then we should move forward.”
Everybody remembers former president Dave Dombrowski holding on to Yoenis Cespedes until the final hour in 2015, finally getting the Mets to cave in and trade Michael Fulmer. This is an entirely different scenario, an entirely different landscape in baseball.
Since the new collective bargaining agreement and the increased penalties for exceeding the luxury tax threshold, the majority of teams have begun to place a greater value on prospects — especially when dealing for a three-month rental player, which Martinez is.
Thus, only two teams were serious bidders for Martinez.
And teams that are buying a rental want to get as much use out of him as possible. They don’t want to wait another two weeks to add the player — they could fall out of the race in that time. So Martinez’s value was as high, if not higher, now than it would have been at the end of the month.
Avila is not new to the process and he knows the climate as well as anybody. He knows that if there were 10 teams with coveted players to sell today, there could be as many as five more peddling players in the next 10 days. The iron was hot, there was a deal on the table that he and the organization felt was a good and fair return for Martinez, and he struck.
For a player they were going to lose to free agency in a couple of months — getting at most a fifth-round draft pick in exchange — the Tigers added three young infielders to their farm system, which is bereft of infielders.
Two of them already rank among the top 20 prospects in the organization — third baseman Dawel Lugo (11th), who is reporting to Double-A Erie, and middle infielder Sergio Alcantara (18th), who will start at High-A Lakeland (18th).
“Being a free agent made it a tough call,” Ausmus said. “This was probably a prudent call in the long run because we would have lost him and not recouped anything…I don’t know if we could replace J.D.’s bat, but we have to find a way.”