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The Best Free Agent Signings in Detroit Tigers History

Jul 6, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers right fielder J.D. Martinez swings his bat at Comerica Park. Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Jul 6, 2017; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Tigers right fielder J.D. Martinez swings his bat at Comerica Park. Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports /
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There’s a surprising name atop the list of the best Detroit Tigers free agent signings.

It has now been 45 years since the advent of MLB free agency, and 44 years since the Detroit Tigers signed their first ever free agent, the flashy and loquacious Tito Fuentes.

A few days ago Mike Petriello of MLB.com took a look at another former Detroit Tigers player, Max Scherzer, and wondered if he might be the best free agent of all time. That query led to a convoluted system of judging free agent signings, but it’s an enjoyable article, and we thought we might borrow the concept for the Detroit Tigers.

Petriello’s system assigns points to free agent signings based on their WAR per season, how many above-average (2+ WAR) seasons they had, MVP or Cy Young awards, World Series appearances, and if they brought back a solid return in a trade. They also included some specific criteria to determine free agents, only a few of which we’ve followed here:

  • Only true free agents deals, no contract extensions. For our purposes that eliminates Justin Verlander, who signed an extension in 2013, and Miguel Cabrera, who the Tigers extended in 2008 and again in 2014.
  • Only look at deals of 2+ years. They chose 3+ years, but we’re being more forgiving.

And that’s it. We’ll begin our list with an Honorable Mention section for the man you see above.

Free Agent: J.D. Martinez, 2014, 6.4 points

3+ seasons, 3 above-average seasons, 3.4 WAR/yr

Perhaps it’s good J.D. Martinez barely misses this list, because his status as a minor-league free agent doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the names here. Truly one of the most remarkable aspects of the Houston Astros’ run of success over the past few years is they managed it despite making two huge blunders — drafting Mark Appell first overall in 2013, and cutting J.D. Martinez in 2014. But obviously no one expected Martinez to do what he did, and luckily for the Detroit Tigers he became one of the best examples of found money in modern baseball history. In parts of four seasons with Detroit J.D. Martinez hit .300/.361/.551 with 99 homers, and he’s responsible for one of the most memorable home runs in Comerica Park history. He would’ve placed 4th on this list if the Tigers had managed to get anything useful for him in a trade, but alas.

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