With no timeline on J.D. Martinez‘s return, would the Detroit Tigers be interested in New York Yankees left fielder Brett Gardner?The Detroit Tigers hopes for 2017 are not quite like the New York Yankees. The Tigers avoided a rebuild — heading into what should be a lousy American League Central division — for a shot at a World Series title, while New York experienced a re-tool to inspire future success.
One of the many pieces that has an enormous bearing on Detroit’s success is J.D. Martinez, who slashed .307/.373/.535 with an OPS of .908 and 22 home runs in 2016. His team was certainly counting on that production in 2017, but after his rolling his right foot while making a catch in the outfield on Saturday, manager Brad Ausmus is unsure of the date his left fielder will return to action.
The X-rays were negative, meaning there are is no fracture in the foot and Martinez is currently diagnosed with a sprained midfoot. The 29-year-old underwent an MRI, but the team is waiting for a review by a foot specialist before setting a return timeline.
Martinez very well could start the season on the disabled list, which would mean the Tigers might have to begin the season with 25-year-old Steven Moya, who is out of options, in left field. Moya filled in for J.D. while he was out last summer with a fractured right elbow and slashed .255/.290/.500 with five home runs and a 37 percent strikeout rate — not ideal for a team with championships aspirations.
With that said, should the Yankees come to their rescue and offer them a former World Champion in Brett Gardner?
First off, with J.D. still in the picture, Gardner would still offer a different dynamic to Detroit’s lineup. Right now, it looks like Ian Kinsler will be the leadoff guy. His career on-base percentage sits at .344 and is projected by FanGrpah’s ZiPS to sport a .325 OBP in 2017. Gardner, on the other hand, maintained a .351 OBP and is projected to maintain a .336 OBP in 2017.
While Gardner’s stolen base frequency has declined in recent years, his 36 stolen bases and 80 percent success rate over the last two years are much better than Kinsler’s (24 SB, 66 SB%).
Those rates are quite similar, but considering the other centerfield options of Tyler Collins, JaCoby Jones and Mikie Mahtook along with Gardner coming off a gold-glove-winning season, the longest-tenured Yankee would unquestionably improve their luck in a winnable division.
Albeit, Kinsler is a much better leadoff option but a strong defender who always gets on base as an eighth or ninth hitter — when Martinez returns — is an option to consider. There are also just two years and $23 million left plus a club option for 2019 on his very team-friendly contract, so he’s not going to add a ton onto Detroit’s budget, which has already dropped Cameron Maybin.
Now, that just proves that Gardner is a solid addition with Martinez was in the picture. When you further acknowledge that he could miss some time, why wouldn’t the Tigers look to improve their outfield before they open the season?
It makes all the sense for Detroit. But what about the Yankees? Well, that depends on how eager general manager Al Avila is to make an improvement to his squad. Gardner doesn’t have to be moved, he still provides value to the Yankees and it’s well known that it won’t be a salary dump. Brian Cashman will eat money like he did with Brian McCann over the winter, but it better be spent on some upside.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what their asking price would be, but it all depends on what exactly Avila is willing to offer. A couple of prospects with some upside on top of eating money would probably be a deal breaker for Cashman. The Yankees would probably inquire about Beau Burrows, Tyler Alexander or Kyle Funkhouser and considering how close the Tigers are to a rebuild, that’s a core of young starters they might want to hold on to.
Nevertheless, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that they are still seeking options for centerfield. Will they give in and sink into their own farm to fill the void?
Unlikely, as signing a veteran on a minor-league assignment would be ideal, but all they have right now is a former prospect who failed to develop and is now out of options (Moya), another centerfielder that may also start the year on the DL (Collins) and Jones (who needs more time to develop in the minors). Martinez only adds to the necessity of an extra outfielder.