JD Martinez, Justyn-Henry Malloy, and the pursuit of additional offensive firepower.

Certainly, it’s difficult to overlook the fact that former Tigers power hitter and crowd favorite J.D. Martinez remains without a team as March begins. While we entertained the idea earlier this year, it didn’t seem probable. Yet, two months have elapsed, and Martinez is still unsigned. A reunion with the Tigers appears somewhat more conceivable now, though it would mark a significant shift in direction from the team’s offseason roster-building discussions. Nevertheless, since the Detroit media persists in bringing up the topic, let’s reconsider it from the perspective of the Tigers’ internal options.

Both Scott Harris and AJ Hinch have emphasized the newfound flexibility in the designated hitter position this season. They may exercise caution with Riley Greene’s recently repaired UCL and limit his outfield appearances initially. With Kerry Carpenter and Mark Canha likely to occupy the corner outfield spots most nights, they might even consider using Colt Keith as a designated hitter occasionally against left-handed starters, thereby bolstering the infield defense without sacrificing Keith’s bat.

Bringing in a dedicated designated hitter isn’t out of the question, but acquiring one as a free agent poses challenges, especially regarding roster flexibility. It would constrain the Tigers’ bench to have a part-time player limited to hitting, and if that player cannot be sent down to the minors, it further restricts their options. If someone like Martinez were to struggle early on, the team would face a difficult decision.

Similarly, if one of the Tigers’ top hitting prospects excels with the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens, accommodating them alongside Martinez or another free-agent slugger like Brandon Belt would be challenging. Apart from Jace Jung, who could assume third base duties, the others wouldn’t fit well into a lineup featuring Martinez.

In terms of offensive output, Martinez is coming off a resurgent season with 33 home runs with the LA Dodgers, but at 36 years old, he strikes out more and had two rough preceding years. Perhaps he could serve as the designated hitter in a third of the games and be used as a pinch hitter in critical situations, a strategy favored by AJ Hinch. However, integrating Martinez into a roster still riddled with uncertainties poses a significant challenge. While Martinez seems poised for a decent year at the plate, there’s always the risk of a sudden decline at this stage of his career.

If the Tigers choose to extend an offer to Martinez, and if Martinez is willing to return to Detroit in a limited capacity, which is far from assured, then it might work out. The financial aspect of a one-year deal would likely be negligible. Yet, the Tigers have valid reasons to believe that keeping the designated hitter spot open is the better option. If they do require supplementary offensive support, the Tigers’ farm system offers potential solutions.

Justyn-Henry Malloy emerges as a compelling candidate. The 24-year-old outfielder boasts an impressive track record at the Triple-A level, suggesting he could provide comparable offensive output to Martinez in 2024. Opting for Malloy, who is likely to debut in the majors this year, makes sense if the Tigers decide to start the season with a part-time designated hitter. Moreover, Malloy’s ability to be called up or sent down based on his performance maintains flexibility, allowing Greene and others to spend time in the designated hitter spot.

Malloy’s development is noteworthy, having excelled at the Triple-A level in 2023. His prowess in hitting fastballs and exceptional eye for the zone make him a promising offensive asset. While his transition to full-time corner outfield duties is underway, there’s no rush to promote him if the Tigers prefer to refine his defensive skills in Toledo. However, if Malloy doesn’t see major league action soon, it could signal a deviation from the plan.

Notably, Malloy’s discerning eye at the plate could have contributed to some complacency. Despite leading the minor leagues in walks, he struggled against breaking balls low in the zone. Malloy and the Tigers recognize the need for a more aggressive approach, especially given the nuances of major league pitching. As he gears up for the season, Malloy aims to strike a balance between patience and seizing opportunities.

Here’s a glimpse of Malloy’s potential, as he smacked a first-pitch fastball to right-center field in a recent game.

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