KANSAS CITY -- The first big hitter of the Trade Deadline season has been dealt. J.D. Martinez, who went from Spring Training release a few years ago to an All-Star with the Tigers, was traded to the D-backs for three prospects on Tuesday, bolstering Arizona's charge for a spot in the postseason.
Perhaps anticipating the slugger's addition, the D-backs went out and routed the Reds, 11-2, in Cincinnati.
"We like a lot about what J.D. brings," D-backs general manager Mike Hazen said.
Detroit receives Double-A third baseman Dawel Lugo (ranked fourth on MLB Pipeline's rankings of D-backs prospects, he joins the Tigers' system at No. 11), Class A Advanced shortstop Sergio Alcantara (15th with D-backs, 18th with Tigers) and teenage shortstop Jose King, currently playing at the Rookie level.
"It's very hard," Tigers general manager Al Avila said, "because this is not what you plan to do. We all want to win. We want to keep our players. But at this point, it is the best thing for the organization at this time."
Martinez was the first move in what is expected to be a busy trading season for the Tigers. He also was one of their most appealing trade pieces, batting .305 with 16 home runs, 39 RBIs and a 1.018 OPS in a contract year with free agency looming this winter. He missed the first six weeks of the season with a sprained Lisfranc ligament in his right midfoot.
Martinez has hit left-handers particularly hard, going 18-for-38 with six homers off southpaws this season. He joins an Arizona lineup that entered Tuesday batting just .223 with a .660 OPS off lefties, compared with .270 and .800 off right-handers.
"That wasn't the only major reason to do that," Hazen said. "I think this team has traditionally hit left-handed pitching, and we're going to hit left-handed pitching again. We felt like J.D. was the player that we wanted to acquire in the middle of our lineup."
The Tigers had been talking with teams -- including the D-backs -- about Martinez for the past few weeks, but their discussions intensified after the All-Star break. Arizona seized the opportunity as it tries to close the distance on the Dodgers in the National League West while holding onto a six-game lead for one of the two NL Wild Card spots.
"I think any time that you have the ability to acquire a bat that fits in the middle of your lineup, you want to take that opportunity, given where we are and how the season has gone to date," Hazen said. "He has performed on many different levels -- in the postseason, with good teams in Detroit -- and we felt like his presence in the lineup and certainly his ability to hit both sides, to be a good corner outfielder, we felt like it was a good fit for us given where we currently stand."
The move ends what had been a Cinderella story for Martinez in Detroit. The 29-year-old was released by the Astros during Spring Training in 2014, and he quickly signed with the Tigers on the recommendation of Avila, who knew him since childhood in South Florida.
After batting .251 with 24 home runs and as many hits as strikeouts (226) over parts of three seasons in Houston, Martinez and his revamped swing mechanics flourished in Detroit. He hit .300 with 99 homers, 285 RBIs and a .912 OPS over four seasons as a Tiger, helping Detroit to a division title in 2014 and earning an All-Star selection in '15.
"Very difficult process for me," Avila said. "I talked to J.D. with [manager] Brad [Ausmus], and we were crying."
That said, the departure had been coming for a while. Martinez is expected to be one of the top offensive players on the free-agent market this winter, and the Tigers -- looking to reduce payroll -- were not in a position to sign him long-term.
Martinez was on the trade market last winter as the Tigers explored ways to lower their payroll; he nearly went to the Mets before the two sides couldn't agree on a return. Once the Tigers decided to make one more run at contention with their core players, the slugging outfielder stayed in Detroit.
While Martinez has had another stellar season, the Tigers have not, entering Tuesday with a 42-49 record.
"It doesn't really hit you until they tell you," Martinez said. "It's definitely tough. I love this team. I love this organization. I love the fans. I love everything in Detroit. That's home for me. They were the organization that believed in me when everyone else passed. But I kind of had a feeling this was coming. …
"I'm joining a good organization in Arizona. I just have to go out there and help them win."
One big factor in the Tigers' willingness to deal Martinez -- and the prospects they received in return -- was the change in rules of free-agent compensation. Under MLB's previous Collective Bargaining Agreement, if a team made a qualifying offer to one of its own free agents, the team would receive a compensation pick at the end of the first round of the Draft if he declined the offer and signed elsewhere that offseason. Under the new CBA, the Tigers -- as a team paying luxury tax -- would've received a pick after the fourth round.
"It would have been a fifth-round pick," Avila said. "Right now, the package we got blows a fifth-round pick out of the water, in our opinion. And obviously, the team that you're trading him to, they won't have the option to do a qualifying offer, either. Those things are obviously negatives when you're trying to trade a player.
"But at this point, Arizona's in the hunt, and they're doing very well. J.D. is a really good move for them in my opinion -- and in their opinion, obviously -- and we feel we got some good players."
Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.