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With extension in the books, J.D. Martinez headed back to work

LAKELAND, Fla. -- After making the rounds with his Detroit Tigers teammates -- hugging new utility player Mike Aviles, patting young reliever Bruce Rondon on the arm -- J.D. Martinez wasted little time in his first day down at spring training.

He promptly left the clubhouse at Joker Marchant Stadium and instead sought out the confines of the batting cage.

Martinez, 28, isn't basking in the afterglow of a standout 2015 season or lazing around in the wake of his recently-inked two-year, $18.5 million contract extension.

Instead, it's back to work.

Martinez wanted it this way. He was not interested in a protracted contract negotiation, one that could've been dragged to a neutral arbitrator for both his camp and the Tigers to duke out. He wished for the deal be taken care of prior to season's start. No distractions.

"It was something that I didn't want to start off the year on a negative note going to arbitration and going through all that stuff," Martinez said. "Everything with the Tigers has been positive. And that's the way I wanted to keep it."

Ultimately, he felt the deal was a fair one for both sides. Martinez, whose contract breaks down to $6.75 million in 2016 and $11.75 million in 2017, saves the Tigers some money with regards to the luxury tax for the upcoming season, but will make quite a bit more the following year. Ultimately, the average annual value is higher than he would've landed in arbitration, whereas he still gets to test the free-agent market at age 30.

"It was definitely, I would say, a negotiating battle, if you want to call it that," Martinez said. "I don't know. That's the business side of it. That comes with the game. I just want to play baseball. As cliché as it sounds, that's what I love to do. I let the [other] people take care of that. I worry about coming out here and hitting and catching the white ball."

Martinez insisted there was no enmity between the two sides, however.

"Both sides understood it. There was never any hard feelings towards it on either side. It's a business," Martinez said.

Martinez conceded the two sides did discuss a long-term deal -- the slugger said last month he wanted to be a "Tiger for life" -- but ultimately could come to an agreement on the type of pact that would keep him in Detroit past 2017.

"It was brought up. We definitely talked about it. But it was something that we didn't really feel comfortable doing at the time," Martinez said. "It was one of those things that was talked about but we couldn't come to an agreement on it."

With the contract talks now behind him, Martinez is looking to build on a ferocious 2015 campaign in which he led the team with 38 runs and finished with a slash line of .282/.344/.535.

Beyond his offensive production, which was a major coup, Martinez also made significant gains in his capabilities as a defensive player in right field, where he finished with 15 assists.

"He made tremendous strides. He made huge strides," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He really put a lot of hard work in. [Third base coach and outfield instructor] Dave Clark put a lot of hard work with him, but he made tremendous strides to the point where's a very good defensive outfielder, I think."

Martinez hopes he will only continue to improve, especially in the mental area of the game. That, Ausmus predicted, will come with experience.

But Martinez plans to aid the effort with what has helped him in the past.

"This game is weird, in a sense that, the moment you think you've got it figured out, it'll humble you real quick. Step on you, make you feel this big again," Martinez said, gesturing with his hands. "In my eyes, I'm a worker. That's always how I've been."