J.D. Martinez reunion with Detroit Tigers would help offense, but it's not happening

LAKELAND, Fla. — A reunion between J.D. Martinez and the Detroit Tigers isn't happening.

Martinez, a six-time All-Star slugger who remains a free agent with 25 days until Opening Day, would undoubtedly help the Tigers on offense, which happens to be an area of uncertainty entering the 2024 season. There has been a lot of buzz in town about a potential reunion, created by fans and radio personalities alike, but the Tigers and Martinez haven't had any dialogue about a contract.

The Tigers don't want a singular player occupying the designated hitter spot in the lineup for roster construction reasons. The roster is built to create and exploit matchups, such as a platoon advantage, to win in the margins. The opening at designated hitter creates an additional pawn for manager A.J. Hinch's chess moves.

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Martinez, a 13-year MLB veteran who played for the Tigers from 2014-17, hit .271 with 33 home runs, 34 walks and 149 strikeouts across 113 games for the Los Angeles Dodgers last season, posting an .893 OPS.

The 36-year-old had the worst strikeout rate of his career, at 31.1%, and the second-worst walk rate of his career, at 7.1%. He also missed more than four weeks of games while on the injured list with lower back tightness in April and groin tightness in August. He has played just 12 innings in the field over the past two seasons.

But Martinez launched 33 home runs and drove in 103 runs last season, his most in both categories since 2019.

The Tigers didn't hit enough home runs or score enough runs last season, ranking 24th in home runs and 28th in runs across 162 games. In the second half of the season, though, the Tigers were in the top 20 for both homers and runs.

In 2024, the Tigers are hoping young hitters Kerry Carpenter, Riley Greene, Colt Keith and Spencer Torkelson can help carry the offense, with mentorship from new veteran outfielder Mark Canha, making $11.5 million after being acquired in a trade.

Adding Martinez would help the Tigers in many ways, including power hitting, run production, leadership in the clubhouse and postseason experience.

Martinez profiles like a perfect fit.

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But Hinch and president of baseball operations Scott Harris explained at least five times over the past five months that there won't be a DH-only player on the roster in the 2024 season.

It's about the construction of the roster.

The plan to keep the designated hitter spot open came up for the first time Oct. 2, the day after Miguel Cabrera's final game. Cabrera, whose $32 million is finally off the books, spent the 2019-23 seasons as the primary designated hitter.

"We all know Miguel was retiring," Hinch said Oct. 2. "We all know the DH spot was going to finally be relieved of a singular player, and now maybe we can utilize that a little differently."

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Using the designated hitter as a revolving door for multiple players became apparent when Harris talked about Canha's ability to play first base to get Torkelson off his feet and protecting Greene's health in return from Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow.

The designated hitter has been discussed a few times in spring training, as well.

"He got better, both metrically and by the eye test, in the outfield," Hinch said Feb. 22 about Carpenter's defense. "We are going to put him in both corners. ... We've told these guys that the DH-only is not a great path to maximizing the roster."

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Dodgers designated hitter J.D. Martinez celebrates his solo home run in front of Tigers catcher Jake Rogers during the fourth inning on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, in Los Angeles.
Dodgers designated hitter J.D. Martinez celebrates his solo home run in front of Tigers catcher Jake Rogers during the fourth inning on Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2023, in Los Angeles.

If Martinez were on the roster, his presence as the primary designated hitter would take away some opportunities from Canha, Carpenter, Greene, Keith and Torkelson, plus future opportunity from a below-average outfield defender in Justyn-Henry Malloy.

Martinez reportedly turned down a one-year, $14 million offer from the San Francisco Giants, then the Giants pivoted to Jorge Soler and signed him to a three-year, $42 million contract.

There could be other offers on the table.

Martinez is holding out for the best-possible deal, likely seeking a two-year contract.

But the Tigers aren't interested.

Contact Evan Petzold at or follow him @EvanPetzold.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: J.D. Martinez reunion with Detroit Tigers would help, but won't happen