Somewhere amidst the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season nostalgia always kicks in, and I find myself in front of a television set watching movies like It’s a Wonderful Life and Home Alone. A scene from one favorite in this rotation, A Christmas Story, epitomizes my hopes for the Rays off season.
In this scene, Ralphie and his brother go to the department store and wait in that horrendous long line to meet Santa. Ralphie is so anxious to let Santa know what he wants that by the time he gets dragged to Santa, he’s forgotten everything. Impatiently prodding him, Santa suggests a football, which Ralphie agrees to although it is not what he wanted. After he’s been dispatched down a slide, he suddenly remembers what he wanted; desperate to let Santa know he claws his way back up the slide, saying: “No..No…I want an Official Red Rylder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle,” and then he flashes a cheesy smile. The mall Santa obliterates his hope with a single utterance, “you’ll shoot your eye out kid” before pushing him back down the slide.
To be honest, that’s a little how I feel as a Rays fan this Christmas. All these free agent targets like Colby Rasmus and Brandon Moss are perfectly fine, but I want more than a football for the Rays. I want an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle.
And to me, that Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle is embodied in Tigers outfielder J.D. Martinez. I’m not saying it’s going to happen or that there’s a remote chance because it’s probably not happening, but it’s Christmas and I’m brimming with hope.
Why J.D. Martinez?
For the past month, the Tigers have tried to trim their payroll with a mind toward the future. They’re listening to offers on everyone, but it’s really J.D. Martinez who is rumored to be the primary piece they are motivated to move. After signing a 2 year deal last season, he’s set to make $11.75 million this season, a bargain for a guy who has averaged over 3.6 WAR for the past three season. He will return to free agency after 2017.
Since joining Detroit in 2014, Martinez has been an offensive monster. He has slashed .299/.357/.540 with the 13th best wRC+ in all of baseball while only producing 1.2 WAR less than Jose Bautista during that time span. The Rays need another guy who can hit lefties; well, JD Martinez has a 150 wRC+ against them the past 3 seasons. Last year the Rays ranked in the bottom 5 in OBP; JD Martinez excels at getting on base with a .357 OBP. Unfortunately, he was horrendous in the outfield last season, but boasts a solid UZR/150 in right field through the previous two seasons (still not quite the sample size you’re looking for). Regardless, there’s room for him as a DH if his fielding is truly as poor as it was in 2016.
The addition of Martinez at the heart of the lineup along with Wilson Ramos would undoubtedly thrust the team into the playoff conversation, and be the best Rays offensive lineup in years.
Martinez’ Trade Value
According to Mets’ writer Marc Craig, the Mets inquired about Martinez as an alternative to Cespedes but found the price tag of Michael Conforto to be too rich for them. Other reports continue to echo Detroit’s desire to add young controllable talent like Conforto while also shaving off some money from the team’s payroll.
Let’s take a closer look at Conforto to establish a baseline for the cost. After the 2014 season, Conforto ranked #80 on the baseball America top 100 with a future value of 55. He made his jump to the majors the following season and has accrued about a full season’s worth of at-bats to date. In that time, he’s showed a glimpse of his immense power with 21 home runs, but he’s struggled to hit consistently. Part of the issue is that his wRC+ against lefties is in the negatives (yes, that’s apparently possible), so he currently in a platoon, but that hasn’t kept him from being a coveted piece across the league.
Two Paths to a J.D. Martinez Deal
Trade Scenario 1: OF Steve Souza & a Midlevel Prospect
On the same 2014 top 100 prospects list, Steven Souza came in at #37 and possessed a similar 55 Future value. Like Conforto, he’s had mixed results in the big leagues but has also demonstrated the ability to be an everyday player. He’s a few years older than Conforto, so the Rays would likely have to include a midlevel prospect to make up the gap. This also assumes that they will be able to move Smyly or Cobb to make sure the payroll doesn’t exceed their limits.
Trade Scenario 2: Mariners receive LHP Drew Smyly & Tigers Receive OF Mitch Haniger, SS/2B Daniel Roberston, & RHP Austin Franklin
In this three team deal, Erik Neander manages to take out $6.9 of the $11.75 million headed towards Tampa’s payroll in Martinez while also acquiring a useful piece for the Tigers in Mitch Haniger. Haniger, recently acquired by the Mariners as part of the Taijuan Walker deal, is a former first rounder ready to step into an everyday role with Detroit after exhibiting an advanced bat in the minors. The Tigers would also receive SS/2B Daniel Roberston who came to the Rays in the Zobrist deal. Detroit’s thin farm system is lacking position players, so Robertson’s defensive versatility would be an advantage for them. The last piece going to the Tigers would be RHP Austin Franklin, but it could be really any young prospect with decent upside.
It may seem like quite a bit to give up for one year, but that one year at $11.75 is exactly the sort of bargain the Rays are all about. They would also have the option of moving him at the trade deadline to recoup some prospects if things don’t go as well as anticipated.
Recently Edwin Encarnacion signed a deal with the reigning American League Champs. It won’t be long before a the top free agents are signed, and the Rays wind up, once again, with the equivalent of a football. I, for one, am confident that the Rays can handle an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle without anyone losing an eye.