Good things come to those who wait. After literally waiting him out for months, the Boston Red Sox are bringing free agent slugger J.D. Martinez into the fold just as spring training opens. Not only have they landed arguably their top off-season target, they have done so on more or less their terms, which is a rarity for teams in today’s game.
It is reported that Martinez’s contract is a five year pact worth $110 million. He will get $50 million the first two years and then has opt-out options after the second and third years. Although free agency was undeniably slow this year—to the point that there have been whispers of collusion, there is no denying that this deal is an incredibly strong move for Boston.
The 30-year-old right-handed hitting Martinez is coming off a career year where he hit a combined .303 with 45 home runs and 104 RBIs in 119 games with the Detroit Tigers and Arizona D-Backs. He brings a major sense of swagger and power to a Boston lineup that has sorely missed those identities since the retirement of the iconic David Ortiz.
The invitingly close left field wall at Fenway Park serves to have dreams of possibilities dance through the heads of Boston fans, knowing Martinez’s ability to hit the long ball. The rival New York Yankees may have a virtual brigade of power, but Boston’s free-agent pick up may serve to unite an already talented offense they have of young players ranging from Mookie Betts to Rafael Devers.
Martinez’s major question mark is health. He has appeared in more than 123 games in a season just once (2015) in his seven year career. That being said, his greatest value to the Red Sox will be if the only time he steps on the field for the team is with a bat in his hands. For as talented as he is with the lumber, his defense can be aptly summed up as offensive. Nearly all numbers suggest that he provides significantly negative value as an outfielder—a position where the team is already well-stocked.
It was rumored that Martinez and his agent Scott Boras were looking for a contract in the neighborhood of eight years and $200 million. Counter reports always indicated that Boston was not budging off five years and $110 million. Given that the Red Sox essentially got their man without upping their offer (not that the opt-outs aren’t a significant concession if he lights the world on fire), this is a major win for the team.
The Red Sox are playing up front for potential, to the tune of $50 million over the first two years. If he is a complete bust and decides not to opt out, the $60 million they owe him the remaining three years is a bit more palatable than some of the mega deals that teams have swung and missed on. If he continues his star play and checks on the open market after two years, it still allows Boston to take a gut check and see how badly they still want a player who will be entering his age-33 season.
The signing effectively pushed the disappointing (both in health and in results) Hanley Ramirez to a likely platoon at first base with Mitch Moreland. Ramirez, who will be paid $22.75 million in the last year of his contract (barring a vesting option for 2019 that will kick in with 497 plate appearances this year) is decent insurance unless he is used as a chip to flip for another team’s albatross contract.
Martinez, who has hit 51 home runs in his last 162 regular season games, is a welcome addition to the Red Sox. After months of Boston posturing and making like they didn’t need the slugger that much, they pulled the trigger and inked the man that they actually needed most. For a team that won 93 games last year despite a decided lack of power and some chemistry issues, the only way is up. Martinez and his potential to put an offense on his back is the rocket fuel that could propel the team back into serious championship contention. Time to play ball.
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