DETROIT - Tigers' general manager Dave Dombrowski gave fans another exciting offseason during the winter of 2013-2014 as the team became younger and more athletic under Brad Ausmus.
Detroit underwent an offensive makeover, shipping Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers for Ian Kinsler and adding speedy left fielder Rajai Davis. The pitching staff moved Drew Smyly to the rotation and inserted veteran Joe Nathan into the vacant closer's role.
The Tigers are dishing out a combined $30 million to Kinser, Davis and Nathan in 2014, causing another of Dombrowski's offseason moves to fly under the radar.
For an organization that has made three straight American League Championship Series appearances, players dropped by a team like the Houston Astros are likely to go unnoticed. But when the Astros dropped outfielder J.D. Martinez on March 22, the Tigers wasted no time signing the 26-year-old to a minor-league contract.
Martinez joined the Tigers' organization in wake of news that Andy Dirks would miss much of the season after back surgery. Though Dombrowski knew there was very little risk in signing the former Astros' No. 6 prospect, the reward was immediate for the triple-A Toledo Mud Hens.
Martinez hit .308 and smashed 10 home runs in just 17 minor-league games before getting the call to the Tigers. He started just three games in April, but managed to pick up a hit in each one of them.
In May Martinez has been a real weapon for the Tigers, hitting .306 with two home runs, four doubles and nine RBI. While Detroit owns an awful 3-7 record in its last 10 games, Martinez has been one of the few consistent performers, picking up two hits in each of his three starts, including two doubles and a home run. Martinez also came off the bench for a huge pinch-hit solo home run to tie the game against Cleveland in the ninth inning on May 19.
Martinez has clearly been a productive hitter in May, but should Ausmus give the outfielder more opportunities to start in the future?
Besides the big home run on May 19, Martinez is 0-5 as a pinch hitter for the Tigers. But as a starter, the youngster hits .295 with 10 RBI, five doubles and two stolen bases. In those 11 starts, Martinez recorded multiple hits in four games and went hitless just twice.
The only place for Martinez to fit into the starting lineup would be at left field, where he would likely platoon with Davis. Dombrowski brought Davis to Detroit to platoon with the left-handed Dirks, but the power displayed by Martinez gives Ausmus an intriguing option, as Davis would be available to pinch run during the later innings.
Davis has struggled at times in May, hitting just .239 overall and going hitless six times. The Tigers believe that the 33-year-old can be a real weapon in a platoon roll, and Martinez has given them the opportunity to put that plan into action.
Though the outfield in Comerica Park is among the most spacious in the MLB, the abundance of talent on the Tiger roster makes the position seem overcrowded for Ausmus. Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter have only missed a combined eight games this season and have earned their starting jobs in Detroit.
When Dirks returns from his injury, Ausmus will have three options in left field, all of which deserve to play more than part-time roles. But if Martinez keeps hitting for both power and average, the Tigers can't afford to leave him out of the lineup.
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