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Cespedes' New Contract Could Spell The End For J.D. Martinez In Detroit

By: Will Burchfield

In the first big news of the MLB offseason, the New York Mets have inked outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to a four-year, $110 million contract.

It's a deal that will have ripple effects across the league - particularly here in Detroit, where the Tigers are eyeing a financial makeover and appear to be shopping many of their star players.

J.D. Martinez, for one.

Earlier on Tuesday, it was reported that the Mets could make a run at Martinez if they failed to sign Cespedes. That's irrelevant now, obviously, but Cespedes' new contract carries serious implications for both Martinez and the Tigers.

Martinez will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of next season. It's the main reason why the Tigers are fielding offers for him now. Assuming Martinez continues to produce in 2017 as he has in the previous three years, he'll be due for a massive raise.

Just how massive? Well, use Cespedes' numbers as a barometer.

Cespedes, 31, hit .280 with an .884 OPS in 2016, totaling 31 HR and 86 RBI in 479 at-bats. Over the past three seasons, he hit .277 with an .833 OPS, totaling 88 HR and 291 RBI in 1,712 at-bats. His offensive-WAR* over that span was 11.1.

Martinez, 29, hit .307 with a .908 OPS in 2016, totaling 22 HR and 68 RBI in 460 at-bats. Over the past three seasons, he hit .299 with an .898 OPS, totaling 83 HR and 246 RBI in 1,654 at-bats. His offensive-WAR over that span was 12.9.

Here are the preceding numbers, listed side by side.

  Cespedes 2016 Martinez 2016 Cespedes 2014-16 Martinez 2014-16
AVG .280 .307 .277 .299
OPS .884 .908 .833 .898
HR 31 22 88 83
RBI 86 68 291 246
AB 479 460 1,712 1,654
O-WAR 3.2 4.1 11.1 12.9

This comparison can be dissected in any number of ways. But here's what stands out to me: both last season and the past three seasons combined, Martinez provided more offensive value than Cespedes in fewer at-bats.

And Cespedes just parlayed his recent production into an $110 million contract, one whose average annual value ($27.5 million) is the second highest ever for a position player. When Martinez hits the market next winter, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him end up in the same ballpark.

Sure, Cespedes is a better defensive player (although he's far from perfect.) And okay, he's faster on the base paths (although not by a huge margin.) But corner outfielders are measured first and foremost by their offensive production, and Martinez has come to match Cespedes in this department swing for swing.

Not to mention, Martinez will be a full year younger when he hits free agency in 2017. He'll likely command at least $25 million per year on the open market, the exact kind of commitment the now fiscally-mindful Tigers would like to avoid. If they're unwilling to tack another hefty salary onto their payroll, they're best served by trading him.

This has always been the case in regard to Martinez. But Cespedes' payday adds to the urgency of the situation. It incentivizes the Tigers to move Martinez now, when they can offer a team a full year of his services, rather than, say, at next season's trade deadline, when he'll be viewed as a two-month rental. The logic is simple: trade him while his value is highest.

Martinez won't end up on the Mets, as was rumored earlier today. But thanks to the Mets' investment in Cespedes, Martinez may soon end up somewhere other than Detroit.


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