Newly-signed outfielder Leonys Martin could provide plenty of value for the Detroit Tigers.
Well, “active” doesn’t necessarily paint the whole picture.
“Relatively active” is probably more apt.
In the early stages of a rebuild that was kick-started by a number of high profile, mid-season trades, the Tigers front office has largely stuck to signing free agents on minor league deals this winter.
There have been some potentially useful finds among the haul of players who have recently joined Detroit on minor league contracts from former first-round pick Kevin Comer to ex-Twin Niko Goodrum and longtime Yankee prospect Mark Montgomery.
Comer and Goodrum are both just 25, while Montgomery is 27.
The Tigers are unlikely to find another J.D. Martinez-type player—in terms of impact— in free agency, but they could very easily stumble upon a bench piece or two, a platoon starter, a back-end rotation arm or a relief pitcher.
Up until Tuesday, Carpenter was the only player the Tigers signed to a big-league deal.
That changed, as the club announced in a tweet that outfielder Leonys Martin has joined the organization on a Major League deal.
We have agreed to terms with OF Leonys Martín on a Major League contract. Additionally, we have signed RHP Enrique Burgos, C Derek Norris, 1B Edwin Espinal & OF Jim Adduci to Minor League contracts for 2018 with invites to Major League Spring Training.
— Detroit Tigers (@tigers) December 5, 2017
The tweet also included the signings of four other players to minor league deals, including outfielder Jim Adduci and former All-Star Derek Norris, but Martin is the most intriguing of the group by far.
In a rebuild, franchises need to throw as many low risk, high-upside players at the proverbial wall as possible to see if anything sticks.
Whether said players develop into long-term pieces, trade chips or are simply designated for assignment or cut at a later date, teams like the Tigers need to be taking fliers on players with high ceilings.
That’s certainly what Martin has.
A 29-year-old outfielder, the veteran previously spent parts of five seasons with the Texas Rangers from 2011 to 2015. He was a regular starter in both 2013 and 2014, while seeing significant playing time in 2015.
Martin was also an everyday player for the Seattle Mariners in 2016, before splitting last season with the M’s and Chicago Cubs.
His 2017 stats (-0.4 fWAR, 35 wRC+ and a .224 wOBA) won’t show it, but the outfielder has plenty to offer at the Major League level.
As recently as 2016 he notched a 2.2 fWAR. It was the veteran’s third season in the last five campaigns with an fWAR north of 2.0.
Part of what has made Martin so valuable in the past has been his ability to make an impact on the base paths and in the field.
Since the beginning of the 2013 season—when he started seeing consistent at-bats—only 12 players have stole more bases than Martin.
The former Ranger is tied with a certain Mike Trout with 112 swipes over that span.
If raw stolen bases totals don’t tickle your fancy, perhaps some more advanced metrics will. Martin ranks 13th in Major League Baseball over the same span with a collective BsR of 21.9.
That 21.9 BsR includes respective outputs of 7.7, 6.6, 2.7 and 4.6 from 2013 to 2016.
In the last three seasons, Detroit’s leaders in BsR include the following:
2015: Yoenis Cespedes, 2.3.
2016: Ian Kinsler, 3.6.
2017: Mikie Mahtook, 3.2.
The three, along with Cameron Maybin in’s 2.5 BsR in 2016, are the only players to even come in above the 2.0 mark.
In that regard alone, Martin’s addition could provide instant dividends.
Another area where the 29-year-old could make an impact is in spacious Comerica Park.
Detroit’s defensive struggles have been well-documented, and the team’s outfielders struggled mightily at times in 2017.
Overall, Detroit outfield players ranked 18th in UZR/150 (-1.8), 20th in collective DRS (-10) and 29th in ARM (-14.2).
The outfield stats were largely weighed down players like J.D. Martinez (-16.4 UZR/150, a -6 DRS and a -4.9 ARM), Nicholas Castellanos (-80.5 UZR/150, -7 DRS and a -3.2 ARM) and Alex Presley (-8.0 UZR/150, -11 DRS and a -0.5 ARM).
These statistical outputs overshadowed players who were actually quite dependable in the outfield grass, including Justin Upton and his +13 DRS, Andrew Romine and his team-leading 7.9 UZR/150 and JaCoby Jones.
Despite seeing considerably less playing time, the rookie logged a 4.3 UZR/150 and a +5 DRS in Comerica Park’s spacious center field.
Still, whichever way you slice it, the Tigers needed defensive help in the outfield.
Upton was traded to Anaheim on the eve of September, while Romine also now calls the American League West his home division after being claimed on waivers by the Mariners.
Jones is still a Detroit Tigers player, but his offensive struggles—which we’ll get to in a bit—make it somewhat difficult to play him every day.
Gardenhire and the Tigers should have no problem playing Martin every day, especially considering he can make a serious impact in the outfield grass.
The ex-Ranger checks in with a 41.3 stat in the category.
He also ranks behind Cain, and only Cain, in DRS, with a positive output of +48.
In terms of ARM, Martin finally comes in ahead of the longtime Kansas City outfielder, along with all other outfielders, with a 34.7 metric.
Now we’ve circled back to the JaCoby Jones offensive production portion of the column. The former Pirates farmhand shows considerable potential, but struggles mightily at the plate.
In 154 plate appearances, the 25-year-old managed just a 34 wRC+ and a .229 wOBA. He also put up a .240 on-base percentage and a .270 slugging percentage.
While struggles at the plate are nothing new for players breaking into the Major Leagues, Jones continues to swing and miss far too often.
The center fielder posted a 42.2% strikeout rate in 2017, which was only a slight improvement over the 42.9% rate he logged in 28 plate appearances in 2016.
Jones’ defense and base running ability will continue to play at the Major League level, but until he can develop at the dish, he may be better suited as serving as a defensive replacement and pinch runner late in games.
That left Jones the sole starting option in center field.
Now, with Martin in the mix, Detroit’s offensive outlook in center field is much improved.
The former Mariner is by no means an offensive force in the Majors, but he brings some power to the game as a center fielder, a trait that gives him intriguing potential.
Martin clocked 15 home runs in 2016, and has registered ISO stats over .120 in two of his three seasons as a starting player.
What’s more, he’s coming off an excellent 88 game, 388 plate appearance stint with Triple-A Tacoma, in which he swatted 11 home runs to go along with 63 runs scored, 39 RBI, 25 stolen bases, a .361 wOBA and a 114 wRC+.
Those numbers may not be sustainable in the Majors, but Martin is a prime candidate to bounce back.
His 2017 production was severely hampered by an exceedingly-low .207 BABUP that was well below his career .306 number.
Low BABIP-induced down years are nothing new for Martin.
His BABIP dropped to .270 in 2015.
Following a strong 2014 campaign, his offensive production dropped off considerably.
Leonys Martin 2014 production: .274 batting average, .325 on-base percentage, .364 slugging percentage, .306 wOBA and a 91 wRC+.
Leonys Martin 2015 production: .219 batting average, .264 on-base percentage, .313 slugging percentage, a .254 wOBA and a 52 wRC+.
After an offseason trade to Seattle, Martin bounced back in the Pacific Northwest as his BABIP returned to a more-normal looking .313 number.
In 576 plate appearances for the M’s, the outfielder hit .247 with a .306 on-base percentage, a .378 slugging percentage, a .298 wOBA and an 88 wRC+.
If the BABIP can come up again, Martin has a chance to make a significant impact for the Detroit Tigers in 2018 in multiple facets of the game.
USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale tweeted about Martin’s reported salary in 2018 in a tweet on Tuesday.
Nightengale tweeted the following:
The #Tigers sign OF Leonys Martin to one-year, $1.75 million contract with 1.1 million in incentives
— Bob Nightengale (@BNightengale) December 5, 2017
Even if the Tigers end up paying all of Martin’s reported incentives, a reported $2.85 million could turn into a significant bargain if Leonys Martin can regain his past form.