MLB: Tigers ink center fielder Martin to one-year deal
The Tigers needed a left-handed bat, another center-field option for spacious Comerica Park and a strong baserunner. They addressed all of those needs Tuesday by signing speedy veteran center fielder Leonys Martin to a one-year deal.
Detroit also announced Minor League contracts and Spring Training invites for outfielder Jim Adduci, catcher Derek Norris, first baseman Edwin Espinal and right-hander Enrique Burgos.
Martin, who turns 30 years old in March, is the second free agent the Tigers have signed to a big league contract, joining former Rockies farmhand Ryan Carpenter. Martin is the first veteran Major Leaguer to sign on to Detroit's rebuilding project, filling a hole that had been looming in their outfield since last summer.
An international signing by the Rangers out of Cuba in 2011, Martin has played in 621 games over seven Major League seasons, including three seasons as an everyday center fielder in Texas (2013-14) and Seattle ('16). He split this past season between the Mariners, Cubs and Triple-A Tacoma. Chicago, which acquired him from Seattle in an Aug. 31 trade, dropped him from the roster last month, making him a free agent.
Martin's speed is his greatest asset in center, allowing him to cover ground in spacious outfield gaps. According to Statcast™, he caught 90 percent of the fly balls hit to him, compared to the 84 percent expected average. That gap was tied for the Major League lead among Major League center fielders.
Leonys Martin lays out and makes a tremendous diving catch to rob Curtis Granderson of a hit in the top of the 2nd inning
Martin's offensive production has been less steady. After batting .247 with 15 homers and 47 RBIs for the Mariners in 2016, his production waned in '17 amid inconsistent playing time. Martin finished with a .172 (22-for-128) batting average and three homers, nine RBIs and seven stolen bases.
Overall, Martin is a .247 career hitter with a .300 on-base percentage and .661 OPS. He has 115 stolen bases in 151 career attempts.
Martin's contract includes a base salary of $1.75 million with another $1.1 million in incentives, according to USA Today's Bob Nightengale. Since Martin has less than five full years of Major League service time, the Tigers have the option of keeping him for 2019 if they want to re-sign him or go through the arbitration process.
Martin gives the Tigers a veteran, left-handed-hitting complement to athletic youngster JaCoby Jones, who remains Detroit's center fielder of the future but struggled at the plate in 2017. Nicholas Castellanos and Mikie Mahtook were the only other outfielders on the Tigers' 40-man roster with Major League time.
Adduci could also be an outfield option in Detroit again if he can get back to full health. The well-traveled veteran's surprising early-season tear was interrupted by an oblique strain in mid-May. He ended up hitting .241 (20-for-83) in 29 games for the Tigers with six doubles, two triples, a home run and 10 RBIs.
Norris, who turns 29 in February, hit .201 (36-for-179) with nine home runs and 24 RBIs for the Rays in 2017 after spending the previous three seasons as a regular catcher in San Diego. He gives Detroit a veteran insurance policy at catcher after Alex Avila was traded in July and Bryan Holaday left as a free agent. The Tigers, in turn, give Norris an opportunity after the Rays released him in June. While he was a free agent, Norris was suspended for the final month of the season for violating Major League Baseball's domestic violence policy.
The Tigers already have their starting catcher in James McCann. John Hicks spent most of the final two months backing him up, but he could also end up getting playing time at first base and DH, depending on the health of Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera.
Espinal, who turns 24 next month, spent the last seven seasons in the Pirates' farm system. He split this year between Double-A Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis, batting .294 with 31 doubles, 15 homers, 86 RBIs and a .774 OPS in 130 games.
The 27-year-old Burgos is a veteran reliever who spent parts of the 2015 and 2016 seasons with the Diamondbacks before splitting this past season between two Triple-A stops. He went 3-4 with a 5.27 ERA in 73 relief appearances over his two seasons in Arizona before struggling to a 5.60 ERA over 35 appearances between Reno and Gwinnett.
The moves leave the Tigers' 40-man roster at 39 before next week's Rule 5 Draft.
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