Ahead of their 2018 World Series run, the Boston Red Sox were in need of another power bat to insert in the middle of their lineup to complement their now American League MVP, Mookie Betts. It was no secret that the Red Sox and J.D. Martinez had a mutual interest in each other through the 2017 postseason run he had with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but the signing didn’t exactly happen as soon as free agency opened up. It was a long, drawn-out process which mimics what we’ve been seeing from the big free agents on the market over the last couple of offseasons. In the end, though, the deal was done and the Red Sox had found their new DH in J.D. Martinez.
The deal was for 5-years, $110 million which included player options following the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons. The average annual salary sits at $22 million, but if he were to play out the remaining years of the contract, he’d make $23.75 million in 2020, and $19.35 million in both 2021 and 2022.
Of course, Martinez could elect to opt-out after the current season, but would that be the right move for the 32-year-old designated hitter?
The first thing that comes to mind is the status of the free-agent market and the aforementioned pattern that made Martinez a free agent much longer than I think he might have anticipated.
One of the best parts of the offseason for baseball fans was the “MLB Hot Stove” season that really kicked off in late November into December. When the biggest free agents were out there, the anticipation would build while we’d all wait to see where they’d land. For a local example, take a look at Curt Schilling in 2004. While he wasn’t a traditional free-agent signing, Schilling was traded to Boston from Arizona where he then signed a contract extension. Coming fresh off of another gut-punch of a loss to the Yankees in the ALCS, this was the kind of news that baseball fans lusted for. Now though? We wait until the start of spring training or, in Craig Kimbrel and Dallas Keuchel’s cases, into the regular season before the biggest names come off the market. The Hot Stove has disappeared. All of those MLB Hot Stove shows should change their name at least for now because if we’re being honest, it’s non-existent.
The talk through the season last year surrounding impending free agent and MLB villain, Manny Machado, wasn’t that he was being shipped off to help bolster the World Series contending Los Angeles Dodgers, it was what his next chapter in baseball would be and where. But while that storyline was prevalent for a majority of the season, once it came to actually signing a deal, he remained on the market well into the winter and didn’t come to terms on his lucrative contract until mid-February. That was also the case for the lightning rod, Bryce Harper, who, while some might call him overrated, was also one of the hottest commodities to hit the market in the last few years.
To simplify what’s being said, the free-agent season hasn’t exactly been hot and teams have appeared to be much less eager to hand out major deals. Would that be the case for Martinez if he were to choose to opt-out? It’s hard to say.
Now that he’s become what seems to be exclusively a designated hitter, that alienates him to the American League. He’s expressed his willingness and apparent desire to play in the field, but as we saw in years past, he was somewhat injury-prone which also caused the Red Sox to be weary before they ultimately brought him in. And, well, he’s frankly mediocre at best with the glove.
His numbers have been outstanding and he’s famously developed himself into being one of the Major League’s most feared hitters, but is that enough for him to land a deal that would pay him more than what the Red Sox have already given him? At least for next season?
Martinez put up MVP-like numbers in 2018 and deserved more consideration than what he ended up receiving for the award itself. And this season is also being slightly overshadowed by what he was able to do last year and what his teammates, Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers, have been doing. Frankly, after what fans saw out of Martinez during his first year with the Red Sox, it’s almost become what’s expected of him.
In his first season in Boston, Martinez hit .330 with a 1.031 OPS, 43 home runs while leading the Majors in RBIs with 130 in 150 games. In 2019 with 125 games played, his numbers have slipped, but again, that’s only because of how phenomenal his 2018 campaign was. This season we’re watching him hit .317 with a .984 OPS, 34 home runs and 93 RBIs. And those stats come with his red hot streak that he’s been on as of late. Per the Red Sox team notes, over his last 35 games, he leads the majors in batting average at .399 and ranks second in RBIs with 41, slugging percentage with .790 and OPS at 1.259. Needless to say, he’s again one of the best and most feared hitters in the game today.
Now the question becomes if he were to elect to exercise his player option, would the Red Sox pay him thus, making it a smart move on his part?
I can tell you one thing. If Martinez does opt-out and the team ultimately pays him, it solidifies my thoughts that their prized, homegrown talent, Mookie Betts, won’t be signing his expected massive deal with Boston.
The team already extended their apparent de facto captain, Xander Bogaerts, to a long term deal. The fact of the matter here is, the front office won’t be able to sign all of the players on their star-studded roster. If Martinez opts-out and the Red Sox pay him, then you’d have to expect the Red Sox would allow Betts to walk following the 2020 season when he becomes an unrestricted free agent. They may be one of the richest clubs in the MLB, but that doesn’t mean they want to pay everyone top dollar.
Per Fansided, Martinez has already expressed his own interest in wanting to remain in Boston when he was asked about whether or not he’d want to play out the rest of his career with the Red Sox in July. “100%. Boston has been my favorite team since I was a kid. I’ve always dreamt of being there. I’ve loved the family side, the way they treat their players and the way they act. It’s a first-class organization and obviously I’d like to be a part of it for the rest of my career. But that’s not really up to me, in a sense.”
Bringing it back in though to the main question, would the Red Sox pay him?
Frankly, while it could turn into a standoff again much like it was during the 2017-2018 offseason, the team should get it done.
Part of the Red Sox larger issue after their long-time DH David Ortiz retired, was the absence of a legitimate home run hitting threat in the middle of the lineup. Rafael Devers could fill that void if need be now that he’s blossomed this season, but having Martinez continue to keep pitchers worrying about his constant threat might be worth the hefty price tag that he’d be calling for. He provides the power necessary to keep this juggernaut of an offense going and his desire to continue to stay at the top of his game are signs showing that he could produce like this for years to come.
At the end of the day, what Martinez has brought to the table for the Red Sox has been worth the contract. But if they want to keep the hitter happy and content, it might be worth them giving him the major payday that he probably deserves at this point.
Does he opt-out at the end of the 2019 season? Something’s telling me he’ll sit tight, play for the $23.75 million in 2020 and see how the free-agent market works itself out this offseason. But if he does choose to opt-out and seek a better deal, it’ll make for a very interesting situation for the Red Sox front office.