We tend to judge massive Red Sox free agent contracts in degrees of disaster. Hanley Ramirez? Not a total disaster. Jack Clark? Disaster. Carl Crawford? Unmitigated disaster. Pablo Sandoval? Historic disaster.
Then there's J.D. Martinez. Linked to the Red Sox for the entire 2018 offseason, he finally signed during spring training. All he has done since is anchor the middle of the lineup, make a pair of All-Star teams, and finish fourth in the MVP voting while flirting with a Triple Crown. Nothing disastrous here.
That's called a positive return-on-investment, and it puts both player and team in an interesting position this fall. With an opt-out in his contract, Martinez could become a free agent and once again test the market, with the expectation that he'll do better than the three years and $62.5 remaining on his five-year, $110 million deal.
In the old days, the decision would be what the old insurance commercial called the biggest no-brainer in the history of earth. Opt out, cash in, watch the dollars flow. That's how Alex Rodriguez ended up banking over $400 million for his career.
These aren't the old days, however. They're strange new ones, where even players as proven and productive as Martinez don't necessarily know if there'll be a market for their services. And so it is that we make the following prediction:
Martinez isn't going anywhere this offseason.
It's not necessarily fair, but it is reality. He's due $23.75 million before his salaries drop to $19.35 million in each of the final two years. The question is who might want him, and once you start breaking down rosters and needs, the pickings look slim.
The most obvious answer is the Red Sox, and if Martinez does opt out, it would seem his safest bet would be simply to re-sign and recoup some of the money he expected to make here the first time around. Would four years and $100 million get it done? Sounds reasonable to me.
But failing that, there's no obvious landing spot for the 32-year-old slugger, who has reached 30 homers in four of his last five seasons and is currently white hot as the Red Sox throw a Hail Mary at the wild card, with his 32nd homer helping the Red Sox beat the Rockies on Wednesday night.
First off, let's rule out the National League. While Martinez can play an acceptable outfield, he's a prime breakdown candidate if forced to play the position daily, especially as he ages into his mid-30s. It's hard to imagine the money being there on anything other than a short-term deal, given those risks.
So that leaves American League teams willing and able to spend at least $20 million on a designated hitter, and there aren't many of those.
The Yankees would normally be a possibility, but they hold a $20 million option on All-Star slugger Edwin Encarnacion that would only require a one-year commitment. More likely is they let Encarnacion walk, divide the position between Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Tauchman, and some of their other sluggers, and instead devote their resources to rebuilding a starting rotation that is already hanging by a thread, and is about to lose CC Sabathia to retirement.
The small-market Rays can play young slugger Austin Meadows at DH if they wish, and if they don't, they'll find a cheaper option. The Blue Jays have the makings of a dynamic young offense behind sluggers Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, but after trading ace Marcus Stroman, they desperately need pitching. The Orioles? Please.
In the AL Central, the Twins hold a $12 million option on the ageless Nelson Cruz, who slammed 33 homers in 94 games before tearing a wrist tendon. Picking that up is an easy call. The Indians just acquired slugger Franmil Reyes from the Padres and are usually looking to cut costs, anyway. The White Sox should have money to spend, but they've got an internal DH candidate in first baseman Jose Abreu and a need for pitching. The Royals? Please.
The AL West brings more of the same. Houston's Yordan Alvarez should win the Rookie of the Year Award while posting monster numbers. The A's have signed slugger Khris Davis through 2021. The Rangers owe Shin-Soo Choo $21 million next year. The Angels have dedicated the DH position to former two-way standout Shohei Ohtani, and let's not forget they're still on the hook for two more years of Albert Pujols, who turns 40 in January. The Mariners? Anything's possible, I suppose.
If you're Martinez, does any of the above sound tantalizing? Unless the Red Sox are willing to deal, the market doesn't look to be shaping up favorably. His best bet requires patience: sit tight, mash again in 2020, and opt out of his final two years, when he'll simply need to beat two years and $40 million in free agency.
That's a much better bet. For now, he should just stay put.
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