Red Sox

Conditions aligning for J.D. Martinez to opt out of Red Sox contract and cash in this fall

Conditions aligning for J.D. Martinez to opt out of Red Sox contract and cash in this fall

If the words "J.D. Martinez opt-out" send shivers after a season of constant speculation that finally ended with the slugging DH staying put, we've got some bad news: prepare for a reprise.

While Martinez elected to remain in Boston this winter for reasons beyond his control, conditions will be ripe for his departure in the fall. Martinez actually negotiated opt-outs after each of the next two seasons, but there are a number of reasons why 2020 represents the sweet spot.

Before we get to them, though, it's worth backing up.

Had the market broken differently this winter, Martinez would've opted out in October. He and agent Scott Boras, however, made a realistic calculation that no contenders with money needed a DH. Martinez wanted to avoid a repeat of 2018, when the Red Sox were the only team to bid on him, never budging off the five-year, $110 million contract he ended up signing.

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This time around, though, Martinez couldn't even count on the Red Sox to be there waiting if no other deals materialized, because the team's stated desire to cut payroll meant it would almost certainly wave goodbye.

Martinez had to know that he'd in effect be cutting himself, and that furthermore, saving his $22 million against the luxury tax was, in fact, the team's desired outcome, no matter how essential his bat is to the middle of the order.

So he exercised pragmatism and returned for a third season, hoping to maintain the numbers that have made him a two-time All-Star in Boston, where he has averaged .317 with 40 homers, 118 RBIs, and a .985 OPS.

That's elite middle-of-the-order production that isn't as widely valued as it should be, since Martinez is 32 and largely limited to DH. So what might change this winter?

For one, Martinez's salary drops from $23.75 million to $19.35 million in each of the next two seasons. While that doesn't impact his AAV, it does decrease his real-world dollars and make it easier for a new deal to surpass what's left on his old one — in this case, as little as two years and $40 million would equal a raise.

Then there's the landscape. A contender like the Twins could be in the market for a DH next winter if Nelson Cruz is not re-signed at age 40. The same is true of the White Sox, who just signed Edwin Encarnacion to a one-year deal, but could make a significant splash if their young talent develops as promised and they become full-bore contenders in 2021.

We also shouldn't discount the Red Sox, not after they slashed payroll in order to reset their luxury tax penalties, which means they'll have money to spend next winter. Because Martinez will be 33 and can no longer play the field full-time, his price in baseball's current system shouldn't be exorbitant.

The real X-factor, however, is the future of the DH.

It seems inevitable that the National League will adopt the rule in time for the next CBA, which begins in 2022. Former GM Jim Bowden recently reported that multiple NL GMs believe the change could happen as soon as next season, which would suddenly make Martinez one of the most desirable names on the market.

Very few NL rosters currently boast one-dimensional sluggers, for obvious reasons. Give Martinez 15 new job openings, and he'll have no trouble finding suitors. He could even land another nine-figure deal, his veteran bat and presence remaking the lineup of, say, the Braves or Phillies.

It's also worth noting that if the Red Sox fall from contention, Martinez could fetch a considerable return at the trade deadline as an impact stretch-run bat. He has a limited no-trade clause of three teams which are unidentified, though AL clubs make the most sense if Martinez's goal is to limit Boston's ability to move him.

Even a midseason trade would improve his market, though, because it would remove draft pick compensation from the equation should he choose to enter free agency.

For that to happen, he'll have to opt out, which means we haven't heard the last of those two words as they relate to the Red Sox slugger.

Not by a longshot.

Jeter Downs comes out on top in latest Red Sox prospect rankings

Jeter Downs comes out on top in latest Red Sox prospect rankings

When it comes to Red Sox prospects, there's a new No. 1 in town, and considering how he was acquired, that's probably a good thing.

Middle infielder Jeter Downs is now Boston's No. 1 prospect, according to rankings released by MLB.com on Tuesday. He displaces former No. 1 pick Triston Casas, a power-hitting first baseman who dropped to second.

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Downs and Casas are the only two Red Sox prospects who cracked MLB Pipeline's overall top 100, checking in at 48th and 83rd, respectively.

Downs wasn't even a member of the organization until February, when he arrived from the Dodgers in the reworked Mookie Betts trade. While outfielder Alex Verdugo was considered the centerpiece of that deal from a big league readiness perspective, Downs is exactly the kind of player the Red Sox hope to stock their farm system with in the coming years.

He broke out during his age-20 season in 2019, smashing 24 homers, stealing 24 bases, and ending the year in Double A. He just turned 22 and is considered a future big league second baseman, though he has played nearly 200 games in the minors at short.

Casas, meanwhile, possesses impressive power of his own, with 20 homers in the minors as a teenager. Still only 20, the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder may not even be done growing, which makes him a potential power-hitting behemoth.

The rest of the top 10 shows a farm system in transition, and one that MLB ranked 26th in baseball. First baseman Bobby Dalbec is the No. 3 prospect, followed by right-hander Bryan Mata, outfielder Gilberto Jimenez, right-hander and Navy airman Noah Song, returning left-hander Jay Groome, outfielder Jarren Duran, and righthanders Thad Ward and Tanner Houck.

Before he blows it up, Chaim Bloom should give Red Sox a chance

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Before he blows it up, Chaim Bloom should give Red Sox a chance

Here at NBC Sports Boston, we like to run a segment on "Early Edition" and "Boston Sports Tonight" called "Buy or Sell," and from Chaim Bloom's perspective, the answer seems obvious — sell anything that isn't nailed down.

Except it's not that simple. Bloom's last-place Red Sox happen to reside in a flawed American League. If the season ended today, the Baltimore Orioles would claim the eighth and final playoff spot. The Orioles, in case you've forgotten, are terrible.

That's the sign of a garbage playoff system, but this is a garbage season. And before the Red Sox start filling any dumpsters, perhaps they should explore one.

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Huh? Hear me out.

The obvious course of action would be to strip the roster, and by the Aug. 31 deadline, that may be the only path available. But even after Monday night's 8-7 loss to the Rays, the 6-10 Red Sox are belatedly showing signs of life, and here's what I'd like to see before depressing the plunger: just one more stinking starter.

Maybe it's a prospect like Bryan Mata, even though the Red Sox have shown no inclination to promote one of their unproven minor leaguers. Maybe it's fireballing left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez, who's being stretched out to open as he returns from a bout with COVID-19. Maybe it's another organization's castoff, though the Red Sox recently passed on former Braves All-Star Mike Foltynewicz.

With three weeks until the Aug. 31 trade deadline, the Red Sox trail the second-place Rays by 2.5 games. They're not going to pass anybody in the standings if they keep trotting out two openers every five days, three if you count right-hander Ryan Weber. Their bullpen simply can't handle it. They've used at least five pitchers 10 times in 16 games, and they've burned through 24 arms in their last four games alone.

That's how someone like Jeffrey Springs ends up pitching an inning that matters despite an ERA north of 13.00, as was the case on Monday, when he allowed the go-ahead runs in the seventh inning of a game he had no business being near, except manager Ron Roenicke couldn't risk running Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes into the ground.

If Bloom could find just one arm, we'd have a couple of weeks to see if the Red Sox can escape the basement. Thanks to an expanded playoff field, the top two teams in each division will advance, and when you're chasing the Orioles, let's just say you should like your chances.

As it is, it's not like a fire sale would net much in return. While the market for prospective free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. or struggling outfielder Andrew Benintendi is negligible, the Red Sox should be able at least to drum up interest in DH J.D. Martinez and closer Brandon Workman.

Martinez is a legitimate opt-out candidate this fall, provided he builds on Monday's three-hit performance, which included his first home run of 2020. Workman is a pending free agent, and a rebuilding club like the Red Sox has more pressing needs than a 32-year-old closer.

The problem is reading the market. While this season will technically end with someone hoisting a trophy, teams may not be willing to part with pieces of their future when contenders like the Cardinals have only played five games in three weeks because of outbreaks. There also may be hesitation to take on future salary when the economic landscape of 2021 remains so uncertain.

And so if you're Bloom and the return is going to be depressed, why not give this team a chance? Maybe Martinez finds his swing. Maybe Rafael Devers overcomes a foot injury and does the same. Maybe another pitcher eliminates an opener from the weekly probables.

There's value in fighting to make the playoffs, and as long as it doesn't harm the future, why not try?