Arizona Diamondbacks Get Major Upgrade in J.D. Martinez

When it comes to making moves for pending free agents at the trade deadline, it’s hard to say that any pure rental is going to be a bargain. In recent seasons, the most successful trade for a soon-to-be free agent is probably the New York Mets’ acquisition of Yoenis Cespedes from the Detroit Tigers two years ago. Cespedes caught fire over the last two months of the season, putting up a 156 wRC+ and helping the Mets to the World Series. The cost was steep, however: part of Detroit’s return, Michael Fulmer, came in at 22 on Dave Cameron’s Trade Value Series┬áthis year.

If there’s a Yoenis Cespedes-type player available this year, it’s the guy whom the Arizona Diamondbacks just acquired. And they don’t appear to have conceded any top prospects for him, either, with Detroit opting for some players further away from the majors, potentially indicating where their future is headed.

Here’s the deal in full:

Arizona gets

Detroit gets

Arizona is win-now mode. Also, they don’t have a great farm system, and Daniel Descalso has been their regular left fielder of late. Even if the injured Yasmany Tomas returns, he’s still just a replacement-level player. J.D. Martinez, meanwhile, provides at least a one-win upgrade over the course of the rest of the season.

Nor does the price appear to have been particularly high. The Diamondbacks retain top prospect Anthony Banda. As for the players they dealt, Lugo was the Diamondbacks’ 10th-best prospect coming into the season. The 22-year-old second baseman has some power and is holding his own in Double-A. Alcantara is a strong-armed shortstop putting up an average line in High-A, while King is an 18-year-old infielder getting his first exposure in the US in Rookie-level ball in Arizona. Detroit seems to have opted for some lottery tickets in exchange for potentially the best hitter on the market.

You might be forgiven for not totally believing in J.D. Martinez. His career got off to a poor start, and of late, he can’t seem to stay healthy. You might even be forgiven for thinking that Martinez is an aging slugger in decline. He’s not that, though. Teammate Victor Martinez fits that bill, and J.D. certainly has the old-man skillset of power and walks while offering little on defense. J.D. Martinez is just 29 years old, though, and since he joined the Tigers in 2014, he has been one of the very best hitters in baseball.

A champion of the fly-ball revolution, Martinez has put up a 146 wRC+ since joining Detroit, which is ninth in baseball over that span, just behind Nelson Cruz, tied with Anthony Rizzo, and ahead of Josh Donaldson, Giancarlo Stanton, and Justin Turner.

Martinez isn’t relying on 2014 and 2015 to prop up his stats, either. Since the beginning of last season, his 148 wRC+ trails only Mike Trout, Freddie Freeman, Joey Votto, Jose Altuve, and Daniel Murphy. This season, Martinez has been even better, hitting .305/.388/.630 with a 162 wRC+. It’s possible the season has flown a little under the radar, as his name is absent from the leaderboards. That’s only because Martinez missed the first month of the season with a sprained ligament in his right foot, however. As a result, he’s accumulated just 232 plate appearances, not enough to qualify for the batting title. If Martinez had hit 16 homers with a 162 wRC+ in April and May instead of May and June, he probably would have made the All-Star team. He didn’t, and while we are mostly talking about past performance, his projections look great, as well.

When looking at projections, it’s very easy to compare them to current stats and say, “Look at all the regression that’s coming.” We can do that with Martinez, too: his projected line of .285/.353/.537 and his 132 wRC+ is well below his season-to-date performance. What’s important to keep in mind, however, is that almost all player projections look like this. We don’t expect Martinez to continue performing at his current level, but we also wouldn’t expect any player — outside of Mike Trout, probably — to perform at Martinez’s current level. Bryce Harper has the second-highest projected wRC+ the rest of the season, and it’s for 15 — i.e., 12 points below Martinez’s current mark. When we compare projections to projections, Martinez still comes out among the best in baseball.

The table below depicts projected offensive numbers for the rest of the season.

Top Hitter Projections for 2017
Mike Trout 15 .305 .427 .597 .422
Bryce Harper 15 .298 .420 .562 .407
Joey Votto 13 .299 .426 .537 .403
Paul Goldschmidt 14 .297 .412 .538 .396
Anthony Rizzo 16 .280 .388 .543 .389
Freddie Freeman 14 .288 .392 .537 .387
Giancarlo Stanton 18 .271 .365 .574 .387
Kris Bryant 14 .275 .380 .522 .380
Miguel Cabrera 13 .299 .384 .523 .379
Josh Donaldson 14 .272 .376 .518 .377
Nolan Arenado 15 .294 .348 .562 .376
Justin Turner 7 .301 .378 .494 .371
Andrew McCutchen 10 .287 .380 .496 .371
J.D. Martinez 13 .285 .353 .537 .370
Mookie Betts 10 .301 .364 .512 .370
George Springer 14 .270 .363 .506 .369
Charlie Blackmon 11 .301 .357 .519 .368
Carlos Correa 12 .288 .369 .504 .368
Jose Altuve 8 .321 .377 .490 .367
Nelson Cruz 15 .275 .349 .529 .366
Daniel Murphy 9 .318 .366 .510 .366
Anthony Rendon 10 .285 .371 .488 .366
Aaron Judge 17 .258 .352 .518 .365
Edwin Encarnacion 16 .258 .359 .502 .364
Buster Posey 8 .305 .378 .477 .363

I’ve included a lot of players here to provide as much perspective as possible on the types of players with Martinez belongs and the players whom he’s expected to outperform. Nor does this account for the players who are actually available at the deadline. Maybe Cabrera is. Maybe Stanton is. In either case, though, a club would have to take on massive amounts of payroll. Donaldson is another possibility, but he’d require a massive turn of talent. When you think of the best hitters in baseball, J.D. Martinez might not come to mind. He should, though. If you’re worried about acquiring him for two months and then slumping, don’t be. The Diamondbacks will get Martinez for around 60 games. Here’s a 60-game rolling wRC+ for Martinez since the start of the 2014 season.

Over the last 450 games or so, the worse version of Martinez has still been a league-average hitter. He’s only had a couple short stretches during which he’s been below 120 wRC+ for any length of time. Generally speaking, a club acquiring Martinez for 60 games is acquiring a great hitter. He hurts right-handers. He destroys left-handers. He’s also only owed about $4 million for the last two months of the season, which means he fits pretty easily into Arizona’s small budget.

Martinez isn’t without some flaws, naturally. He’s a defensive liability. For his career, he’s about six runs below average per full season by UZR and double that according to DRS. He broke his elbow last season, which kept him from playing a full season. A foot injury prevented him from breaking camp with the Tigers. Foot injuries can be long-term problems, and they have helped ruin careers like Albert Pujols’s in Anaheim, but Martinez is healthy and still hitting right now. There are probably some teams that might look at Martinez and wonder whether it’s worth it to pay a higher cost when Yonder Alonso, Jose Bautista, Jay Bruce, and Lucas Duda might be available for less — or when any of the Marlins outfielders or Josh Donaldson or Andrew McCutchen will give you more future value. That might be why Detroit is moving him now, not wishing to be left holding the bag at the end of the month. Arizona just went out and got the biggest impact rental for the rest of the season. He didn’t require Arizona’s top prospect, the only prospect the team had in Longenhagen’s top 100.

The Diamondbacks already had a very good shot to make the playoffs, but they were inching closer to Colorado and teams in the Central division. They probably would have made the playoffs without this move, but they’ve now seriously upgraded their lineup without doing damage to their future. They might only get into a one-game playoff, but this is still a solid move given the cost. As for Detroit, one would think they are just getting started on the road to rebuilding, and if the return here is any indication, they are thinking well into the future and not trying to reload anytime soon.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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5 years ago

I don’t know who these people are that are underrating JD, but this looks like an absolute steal for Arizona. Surely Detroit could have gotten more from another team?