To say that there's a lot of nostalgia in Detroit for the 2011-2014 Tigers teams might be an understatement. It makes sense; with rosters that packed, so many World Series championships just out of reach, the swift departure of so many stars from Detroit following those disappointments, and some pretty abysmal years since left a lot of room for longing for better days.
This year, after losing the last of the playoff-form Tigers of old in Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers may have a chance to put some of that nostalgia to good use. JD Martinez, who made his Tigers debut with the 2014 team and stayed until the trade deadline of 2017, is a free agent in the final years of his career and is still putting up All-Star numbers as a DH.
A potential return to the Tigers was hinted last week by Mark Feinsand of MLB.com, who wrote that the Tigers, Mets, and Blue Jays have all expressed interest. However, a conflicting report from Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press shut down the possibility of a reunion soon after. But could Martinez return to Detroit be good for the team?
Why Tigers would benefit from a JD Martinez free agent splash
Martinez, a career .287/.350/.524 hitter who batted .300/.361/.551 during his four years in Detroit, would be a great way not only for the Tigers to mine fans' nostalgia, but to add a very powerful bat and high OBP to a team that needs both. He could be a part of what the team views as a wide-open run to the top of the AL Central, helping to recall the glory days he was part of early in his career. Although he is 36 and sat for almost 50 games in 2023 due to injury, he mashed for the Dodgers when he was healthy. A .271 batting average and .893 OPS earned him his third consecutive All-Star appearance.
While the philosophy Scott Harris and the Tigers' front office have been working off of this offseason — develop, not buy — might rule out in the end and take the Tigers out of the running for Martinez, they should at least heavily consider re-adding him. It would mean pushing Kerry Carpenter back to the outfield, where his defensive production has been less-than-stellar, but doing so could give some grace to Parker Meadows, who is expected to spend his first full season in center this year, and Riley Greene, who will be coming off of Tommy John.
There's still more than enough goodwill felt toward Martinez in Detroit, and he's still performing despite his age. Getting him back could make a splash on the backend (ticket sales and jerseys for a team that is desperately missing a marquee player after losing Cabrera), but more importantly giving the Tigers a strong, veteran bat toward the top of the lineup.