FORT MYERS, Fla. — The marriage felt arranged. The engagement was definitely too long. At the altar, they proved a perfect match.
J.D. Martinez’s five-year, $110 million contract with the Red Sox, which isn’t yet official but has been confirmed to NBC Sports Boston, created a night that was uncommon for the Red Sox in the last year: nothing but love.
Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in October took responsibility for providing a subpar offense in 2017. At last, he addressed an admitted shortcoming with the best available option, at a reasonable price to boot.
In front of the microphones Monday morning, Red Sox ownership did not acknowledge their most basic of obligations: to improve every winter. John Henry and Tom Werner suggested they had made sufficient changes.
Later in the day, Henry and Werner put their money where their mouth earlier was not.
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Doling out dollars is not always the solution, as the Red Sox and many teams have learned over the years. But in this case, a situation where the Sox were so clearly missing one thing — a bat capable of 40 home runs, someone whose production might come close to David Ortiz’s — dipping into free agency made sense. The depressed market and the state of the Sox farm system made a signing even more logical compared to a trade. There was greater impetus to act now, too, because of the likelihood this group looks somewhat different in coming years.
Missing out on Martinez would have been problematic. The posturing throughout the negotiations was constant from both sides, and sometimes downright aggravating to listen to. But the Sox did what they had to, and Martinez is still positioned to get a full slate of at-bats with the Sox this spring to be ready for Opening Day. Long wait, no foul.
One has to hope, and assume, that the Sox dug in on Martinez’s background, personality and character to best predict how he’ll fit in Boston. He’s not an Eric Hosmer, center-of-the-clubhouse figure. He’s a thoughtful and confident hitter, someone who was released four spring trainings ago by the Astros and signed with the Tigers on a minor league deal — Dombrowski’s old Tigers. Martinez handled the pressure of a pennant race last season in Arizona, although Arizona is a wee bit different.
The contract can work out well for both sides. Martinez surely wanted more, but he’s getting $50 million over the first two years and $72 million in the first years if he chooses not to take one of his two potential opt outs. He can become a free agent after Year 2 or Year 3, and has the insurance of two more years if he doesn’t want to test the market again.
Dombrowski has taken a lot of flack here and elsewhere for being an inefficient spender, for not squeezing out value when he can and should. He took the Martinez pursuit right up to the first day of full workouts at JetBlue Park (and Martinez’s agent, Scott Boras, took it there as well). But Dombrowski squeezed out value.
Martinez’s production at the plate is on par with some of the absolute best, even if he is a late-blooming star who isn’t as well known as say, Giancarlo Stanton.
From 2014-16, Ortiz had a .937 OPS. From 2014-17, Bryce Harper had a .937 OPS. Martinez had a .936 OPS.
The top slugging percentages from 2014-17, with a minimum of 1,500 plate appearances: Mike Trout, .579, Martinez .574, Stanton .573 and Ortiz .564.
Via BaseballSavant.com creator Daren Willman, Martinez barreled up 19.5 percent of batted balls last season, third most in the majors behind Aaron Judge and Joey Gallo.
Speaking of Judge — he has a partner in the lineup in Stanton. The Astros added top pitcher Gerritt Cole. Finally, the Red Sox added a big piece of their own. They did what they had to, and Dombrowski, Sam Kennedy and the Sox owners should be applauded for that.
Now, can they upgrade the bullpen? Just kidding. Mostly.
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