Before the San Francisco Giants' run of even-year championships was killed by their bullpen at the end of 2016, it was wounded by their lack of power.
Their leading home run hitter was Brandon Belt, who cranked just 17 homers. 17. The bullpen shouldn't be forgotten, but this is also a problem that needs fixing this winter.
It seems the Giants have just the guy in mind.
It's not Edwin Encarnacion, Jose Bautista, Mark Trumbo or any of the top free-agent sluggers. It's on the trade market that the Giants have their eyes, specifically on Detroit Tigers right fielder J.D. Martinez. This from Jon Morosi on MLB Network:
The recommended dosage of salt to take this with might be more than a grain. As Morosi went on to note, the talks between the Giants and Tigers occurred at last week's general managers meetings and "have yet to advance beyond initial stage."
However, Martinez's availability is not in question. Tigers general manager Al Avila promised in October (via Anthony Fenech of the Detroit Free Press) that "changes are coming" as the club seeks to go from old and expensive to young and cheap. Trading Martinez, 29, would help the process.
Also not in question is why the Giants would be interested in a player like Martinez.
With Angel Pagan off the books, one of the needs the Giants must fill this winter is in left field. That would also be a good place for them to add some power to a lineup that produced only 130 home runs in 2016, third fewest in MLB. Pagan and other Giants left fielders hit only 14 home runs.
Martinez would seem to have just the power bat for the job. After sputtering out of the gate with the Houston Astros in the first three seasons of his career, he changed his swing and has produced a .540 slugging percentage and 83 home runs over the last three seasons.
Martinez peaked with 38 homers in 2015. Remember the last time the Giants had a guy hit that many home runs? It was in 2004. Some guy named Barry Bonds.
Before we go any further, let's be careful not to mischaracterize Martinez as a perfect player.
For one, his defense is a question mark at best and a black hole at worst. Defensive runs saved (minus-22) and ultimate zone rate (minus-17.2) rated him as a terrible right fielder in 2016. That's out of line with how he rated in 2015 but in line with how he's rated in right field and left field his entire career.
For two, Martinez has an Achilles' heel when he's in the box. He swings and misses a lot, striking out in 26.1 percent of his plate appearances over the last three seasons. So don't read too much into his .299 average in this span. He's not as advanced a hitter as that makes him look.
But more so than many other teams—maybe more so than every other team—the Giants are in a position to hide Martinez's shortcomings.
|2016's Most Efficient Defenses|
Pagan aside, the Giants will be returning every key member of a truly great defense in 2017. According to Baseball Prospectus, the only National League team better than the Giants at turning batted balls into outs in 2016 was the Chicago Cubs. They of the historically awesome defense.
The Giants can thus afford to swallow a defensive downgrade in left field if it means getting more offense. And on that front, taking on Martinez would not require an already strikeout-prone lineup to get even worse. The Giants had the lowest strikeout rate in the National League in 2016. They can afford a net loss in that department.
As long as Martinez were to keep the power coming, of course.
This is where I was initially feeling skeptical about their interest in Martinez. The danger of acquiring him, after all, would be paying a heavy price for his power and then watching AT&T Park suffocate it with its sheer AT&T Park-ness.
But courtesy of Baseball Savant, here's a picture that eases that concern:
These are all the home runs Martinez has hit over the last three years overlaid onto AT&T Park's dimensions. The only area where he would have lost home runs is in triples alley. And if a player is going to lose home runs anywhere, it may as well be in a place that's called "triples alley" for a reason.
It's not surprising Martinez's recent dinger prowess passes the AT&T Park test. He doesn't get cheated. Over the past three seasons, only two players have made hard contact at a higher rate:
- David Ortiz: 44.2%
- Giancarlo Stanton: 43.3%
- J.D. Martinez: 42.4%
The obligatory buzzkill is the Giants can't have Martinez for free. But with just one year left on his contract, he's not the kind of guy who's going to require some kind of massive commitment. And with an $11.75 million salary headed his way, he's not grossly underpaid either.
As such, the Giants shouldn't have to send their entire farm system to the Tigers to get their man. Jason Beck of MLB.com floated the possibility of the Tigers getting one of the Giants' top outfield prospects (Mac Williamson, Jarrett Parker, Austin Slater) and/or a young pitcher (Tyler Beede).
As much as the Giants would probably prefer to hang on to their young talent, they're in no position to get stubborn.
With Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto leading their rotation and Buster Posey, Belt and Hunter Pence leading their lineup, the Giants are very much in win-now mode. They're precisely the kind of team that should be interested in surrendering prospects for an immediate upgrade. And if they get Martinez, they would then only need to go shopping for bullpen arms on an offseason market that has plenty of them.
Of course, they don't necessarily need to get Martinez first. But at some point, the Giants should push their talks with the Tigers beyond the "initial stage."