DETROIT -- The Tigers are looking to trim payroll, with right fielder J.D. Martinez among their prime candidates for a trade. The Giants are looking for a corner outfielder and an offensive boost with Ángel Pagán on the free-agent market. As baseball's Hot Stove season heats up, there's an opportunity for a match.
Among the many conversations last week at Major League Baseball's General Managers Meetings, the Tigers and Giants had conversations exploring a potential Martinez swap, MLB Network insider and MLB.com columnist Jon Morosi reported Tuesday.
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The talks were preliminary, and they have yet to advance to anything serious. That lines up with remarks from Tigers general manager Al Avila that they talked with several teams during the GM Meetings, but that nothing was serious. As Avila put it, the market "is kind of all over the place right now."
Though its much-maligned bullpen is San Francisco's priority this offseason, left field quietly looms as not only a void, but an opportunity for upgrade alongside center fielder Denard Span and right fielder Hunter Pence. Giants left fielders combined for a .720 OPS this past season, good for ninth in the 15-team National League. Much of that came from Pagan, who enjoyed one of the best years of his career at age 35 with a .277 average, 12 home runs, 55 RBIs and a .750 OPS.
The free-agent market provides no shortage of opportunities beyond Pagan, with Ian Desmond, Mark Trumbo, José Bautista and Carlos Beltrán all available. But even with Trumbo coming off a stellar season, Martinez offers a compelling combination of prime age, consistent production and financial flexibility.
Martinez batted .307 (141-for-460) with 35 doubles, 22 home runs, 68 RBIs and a .908 OPS in 120 games, despite missing six weeks with a fractured right elbow. He hit better down the stretch after his early August return (.332 average, .945 OPS) than before the injury (.286, .878).
For someone who emerged suddenly at a later stage, breaking out from obscurity with the Tigers in 2014 after the Astros released him, Martinez has been striking in his consistency since, assembling a .299 average, .540 slugging percentage and .898 OPS over three seasons in Detroit. He won't turn 30 years old until next August.
Just as important from a market standpoint, Martinez doesn't come with a long-term commitment. He's a year away from free agency, and he's set to make $11.75 million in 2017 to close out the two-year contract he signed with Detroit last winter to avoid arbitration. Any team that acquires him this offseason could try to sign him to an extension or ride out the deal and potentially recoup a Draft pick if he signs elsewhere, depending on the new free-agency setup in the next Collective Bargaining Agreement.
For those reasons, the Tigers have expected Martinez to draw the most interest among their veteran trade chips, as they search for ways to trim a payroll that hit $216 million this past season and includes a league-high $175 million in commitments for 2017. If Detroit hopes to pare back salaries without dealing Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, a decent deal for Martinez could be critical.
Martinez's salary nearly matches up with the $11.25 million Pagan made this past season. The bigger question of cost is the return from a Giants farm system that has some depth in talent but not an abundance of players viewed as future stars.
The Tigers could try to pry one of the Giants' outfield prospects, adding to its crop of potential Martinez replacements that include slugging Steven Moya and Tyler Collins. Mac Williamson put up an .855 OPS on his way up the Giants farm system but has yet to translate that to the big leagues, batting .223 (25-for-112) with six home runs in San Francisco this year. Same goes for Jarrett Parker, who hit 39 homers and 33 doubles over the past two seasons at Triple-A Sacramento in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League but batted just .236 (30-for-127) with five homers for the Giants this year. Outfielder Austin Slater who is ranked as the Giants' 22nd-best prospect, batted .305 with 18 homers and 67 RBIs between Double-A Richmond and Sacramento this year.
One name to watch on the pitching side could be former first-round pick Tyler Beede, whom Tigers prospescts have faced a lot over the past two seasons at Richmond. He put up a 2.81 ERA over 24 starts this year, striking out 135 batters over 147 1/3 innings.
If the two sides struggle to find agreement on prospects, Detroit could try to settle for a lesser package if San Francisco takes on another of the Tigers' high-salary players. Aníbal Sánchez and Mike Pelfrey are under contract for 2017 at $16.8 million and $8 million, respectively, in the final guaranteed year of their deals, though Sanchez faces a $5 million buyout or $16 million option for '18. Reliever Mark Lowe will earn $5.5 million next year.