Would Scott Boras risk taking JD Martinez into free hands again, two years older this time, his back restraining him defensively and the designated racket market shrinking?
We’ll find out in a moment.
On Monday, the Red Sox could receive their first gift of the fast approaching Christmas season, when Martinez leaves the remaining three years and $ 62.5 million on his contract.
The benefits to Martinez’s Red Sox opting out seem to weigh the rewards of his stay, especially at a time when the Sox are and likely should be entering what appears to be a bridging year in 2020.
The three highly paid starters are all injured. The bullpen needs reinforcement. There are holes in the first base, in the second base and, if Martinez is eliminated, the batsman.
Meanwhile, the Red Sox are trying to cut wages by nearly $ 30 million to get back below the luxury tax threshold of $ 208 million. This would reset their snowball penalties (financial and strategic) and enable them to enter 2021 with the same freedom that allowed the Yankees to be aggressive after rolling back their tax structure to 2019.
Martinez ’23 loss of $ 75 million (though there is a $ 2.5 million buyout) would give them $ 21.25 million over the threshold this year and another $ 19.375 million in in 2021 and 2022.
Since they would surely make him a qualified offer that he would obviously refuse, they would also receive draft pick compensation (up to two picks, neither of which are made before the second round).
The Red Sox could thank Martinez for two outstanding years, experts could slap former boss Dave Dombrowski (and current general manager Brian O’Halloran) on the back for a well-structured contract and everyone goes home happy.
But it’s a difficult situation for the 32-year-old DH.
On the one hand, any chance of stepping into the free hand after a strong season is usually a good thing. Martinez hit .304, cranked 36 homers, and completed 105 runs. His .939 OPS was tied with Xander Bogaerts for 13th place among qualified major leagues.
You’d think he’d get a solid free hand deal.
Aside from the Red Sox being so concerned about his ongoing back cramps that Martinez appeared in just 38 outfield games in 2019, compared to 57 outfield games a year earlier.
Manager Alex Cora said he was trying to be careful with Martinez’s playing time on defense.
“I don’t want to push him out and suddenly his back starts to play and we lose him for a long time,” Cora said in the middle of the year when Martinez’s back became active again.
Martinez missed a total of 16 games this year but still garnered 657 record appearances. Its durability isn’t the biggest issue.
The concern for aspiring teams is that he wasn’t keen on defense, and neither does it make sense to test him there if his racket makes him so valuable.
His market is immediately reduced from 30 to 15 teams.
If you comb through the American League teams’ depth maps, only the Indians, Orioles, Mariners, Rangers, Rays, Royals, and White Sox seem to have room for a full-time DH.
The Orioles, Rangers and Royals are being rebuilt. The rays don’t spend a lot on DHs.
Would Martinez’s market be limited to the Mariners (who are doing some kind of rebuilding but could reasonably compete) and White Sox?
Other top DHs are no longer making Martinez money. Nelson Cruz had picked up his $ 14 million option with the twins. Edwin Encarnacion had turned down his $ 20 million option with Yankees.
And what Martinez does – 300 and 30 homers a year – is no longer as rare as it used to be.
At the heart of the steroid era in 1999 and 2000, there were 45 and 47 players respectively completing 30 home runs.
In 2019 there were 58 players with 30 homers.
There were 10 guys with 30 homers and an average of 300. There haven’t been that many since the steroid era.
And while most players in the league saw their home run totals spike with Justin Verlander’s “juiced” baseball balls, Martinez saw his home runs drop from 43 to 36, his average drop from 0.330 to 0.304.
It’s not that Martinez wouldn’t make the Red Sox any better. Obviously he would. The decision on his salary of $ 23.75 million for 2019 undoubtedly makes it harder for a team that has too many gaps to fill and not enough money (or near-finished prospects) to fill them.
It would take them no less than a dozen scenarios to unfold perfectly for them to become a World Series team in 2020.
Martinez, who terminates his contract on Monday, is not one of them. But it sure helps them get better in 2021 and 2022.
And as the new baseball boss Chaim Bloom suggested during his introductory press conference, the Red Sox are moving away from the win-now model and onto a new one.
The goal, he said, is “sustainable, long-term success, fighting for championships year after year”.