July 19th, 2017
Saying farewell to J.D. Martinez signals
the end of a great era of Tigers baseball
By KEITH GAVE
Less than 24 hours after his “spasmy” back forced him out of the game and nearly broke the Internet, J.D. Martinez finally got the news we’ve all been expecting for awhile now.
The shoe finally dropped. The Tigers traded their slugging right fielder to the Arizona Diamondbacks for three young prospects, all of them shortstops. More shoes are likely to drop over the next 11 days or so, with GM Al Avila expected to deal its closer, left-handed reliever Justin Wilson, and catcher Alex Avila, Al’s son.
And it may not end there as the franchise closes the book on more than a decade’s worth of serious relevance that, for all practical purposes was really finished a few years ago. For the past two seasons, the Tigers haven’t been nearly as good as some of us expected them to be, especially considering they have one of the highest payrolls in baseball.
Not only did they not make the playoffs last year, they finished dead last in the Central Division, and there flirting with the basement again until the Chicago White Sox pretty much secured that space by trading off the few MLB players remaining on their roster to continue stockpiling prospects.
Which is the same detour the Tigers are taking, starting with the Martinez trade.
Now quick, raise your hand if you were watching when he left the Tiger’s game Monday in the sixth inning and you didn’t immediately think of Austin Jackson, slowly trotting to the dugout from his post in center field in the middle of a game on the MLB trade deadline in 2014.
Ah, so you’re the one.
A moment of déjà vu for the rest of us when Alex Pressley sprinted to vacant right in Kansas City after retrieving his glove – sending the Twittersphere into a tizzy with speculation that Martinez had been pulled from the game because he finally had been traded.
Ironically, the trade was announced just before the Tigers won their fourth straight game and looked like a team about to finally put together a run that might get them contending at the top with the Cleveland Indians. A four-game sweep in Kansas City – a monumental task team against any team in MLB – the Tigers could catch the Royals and pull close enough to the Indians to smell their war paint.
The problem is even if they get that close they’ll have to play the final 70 games or so without their most consistent power hitter, Martinez, their closer, Wilson, and their backup catcher who has played far, far more than anyone expected him to because Alex Avila has been the Tigers’ best hitter this season after Justin Upton.
Meantime, have no sympathy about Martinez on the move. He said he would be happy to remain in a Tigers uniform for the rest of his career. He could have stayed. It was his option, and he made it clear he wanted to test the market. And the Tigers will be part of that market.
They could re-sign him in the off-season, though they probably need to unload one of those burdensome contracts. Yeah, we’re talking about Justin Verlander, or even Miguel Cabrera. Because let’s face it: A true overhaul of this roster, which is what Avila has in mind, can’t begin until the Tigers can free themselves of contracts forged by their late owner, Mike Ilitch.
And let’s not blame him either. All he was doing was trying to deliver a winner to the city he cherished.
So, as we start witness the beginning of the end, let’s try not to be sad that it’s over. Let’s rejoice over all those four straight AL Central titles from 2012-15, and those two trips to the World Series in 2006 and 2012.
No, they didn’t deliver a World Series like those great Tigers teams from about 1967-72, or the mid-1980s teams. But this last decade or so sure was fun while it lasted, eh?