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J.D. Martinez grew under Paul Goldschmidt, wanted D-backs return

(Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)

PHOENIX — The aura around J.D. Martinez changed in the back-half of the 2017 season.

A known slugger, the Detroit Tigers outfielder on an expiring contract was shipped midseason to the Arizona Diamondbacks for three lower-level minor league prospects. As a rental, he smashed 31 home runs after the All-Star break — 16 in September alone — to help the D-backs to a Wild Card berth.

Julio Daniel became Just Dingers.

The half-season with Arizona meant more than a big payday, one he received with a five-year, $110 million contract signed with the Boston Red Sox that summer.

“It was a special time,” Martinez said Friday in his first return to Chase Field since departing Arizona.

“I loved it. I really did, I wanted to come back. It was something that I told my agent I was definitely up for. Obviously it’s a business and things don’t work out. I found a home in Boston and I couldn’t be happier.”

Was it the money?

The Diamondbacks had interest in re-signing Martinez, too, especially after the year he had. Yet with Paul Goldschmidt’s contract ending after the 2019 season, it was assumed Arizona general manager Mike Hazen would be cautious adding too much salary.

Asked why a return to the D-backs didn’t happen, Martinez could only laugh on Friday.

“Go talk to Hazen,” he said. “I don’t know.”

Martinez told AZCentral.com’s Nick Piecoro earlier in the week that he “easily” could have been brought back to the desert. The team had genuine interest in making it happen, president Derrick Hall told KTAR News 92.3 FM‘s Bruce St. James and Pamela Hughes on Friday.

“He was so good here,” Hall said. “I was glad to actually hear him say that he thought it was closer than it actually may have been because it just shows that he wanted to be here. We obviously wanted him.

“There was so much going on at the time and you really don’t know [what he wanted to do] because you’re not talking to the player, you’re talking to the agent. At the same time, we knew we had to make a move.”

The D-backs had lined up a three-way trade to acquire outfielder Steven Souza Jr. from the Tampa Bay Rays as they negotiated with Martinez, Hall said, and the deal went through as soon as Martinez agreed with Boston in July 2018.

Any bitterness aside, Martinez believes he grew up in Arizona despite turning 30 during his brief stint with the Diamondbacks.

“I came from a veteran clubhouse and I was a lot more, like, to myself and quiet and didn’t really speak out,” he said. “Coming here, I think Goldy did a good job of kind of opening me up and kind of showing me the next step of almost — you want to become a leader, taking responsibility in the clubhouse and sharing your thoughts and ideas because they might help someone. He really would kind of push me to open up.

“Goldy kind of shoved me into it.”

That helped Martinez with the Diamondbacks. He then put together one of his best seasons as a member of the Red Sox last year.

Martinez slashed .330/.402/.629 with a career-high 188 hits and 130 RBI in 2018. Boston won the World Series.

And just more than a year after the D-backs didn’t do enough to retain him, quite a lot has changed in Arizona.

Goldschmidt is now playing in St. Louis, earning an extension with the Cardinals that mirrors Martinez’s deal with the Red Sox, while former D-backs center fielder A.J. Pollock is in L.A. Martinez keeps in touch with Goldschmidt and said he still communicates with players on Arizona’s roster.

Yes, he wanted to return. But things have worked out well for all parties, Martinez thinks.

“I’m happy they all landed … on competitive teams and teams that have a chance to win,” he said, adding he respects the remaining talent in Arizona. “I don’t think they’re a pushover team over there.”

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