Whatever the final concession is that the Red Sox have to make to J.D. Martinez and his agent, Scott Boras, it will eventually be an afterthought.
Martinez and the Sox need each other. But most of all, the Sox need Martinez.
MORE RED SOX:
- Sox bring back Moreland with two-year deal
- Sox tell Martinez he would DH, others want him as OF
- DRELLICH: Calm down Sox fans, patience can pay off
Yes, we’re advocating spending a lot of money and decreasing roster flexibility further in an attempt to remedy a roster damaged by those elements already. Why? The circumstances demand it.
The Sox have a huge need for power with only one spot in the lineup where they can add (as of now, anyway). They reset the luxury tax this year, which enables spending with fewer overages. The free-agent market next year with Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will only look scarier in terms of dollars, at a time when both the Dodgers and Yankees are projected to be back under the luxury tax, ready to spend. The American League is starting to look like a battle of super teams. And the Sox' farm system is so thin that trading for a slugger probably (although not definitively) makes little sense.
As of now, Boras and Martinez want seven years. Whatever the last hurdle proves to be — maybe it’s an extra year, maybe it’s a little higher average annual value — Dave Dombrowski has to clear it.
He can and should wait out his targets. But this waiting game, this matter of an extra year (or two?) boils down to reputation, really.
Sign Martinez for seven years and Dombrowski plays the part he’s often criticized for: overspender. There goes Dombo, just throwing money around again. Anybody can do that.
It’s not ideal roster management to sacrifice the future for the present. But the Sox have made a play for the near future, and one extra year for a star slugger isn’t going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Missing out on that star slugger could be.
The team is already pot committed to the present, with Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel and the Killer B’s. Upgrading the lineup in a meaningful way isn’t easy. This is a universal truth around the league: going from bad to decent is one thing. Going from good to excellent is much, much harder, and the acquisition cost is much more difficult to judge conventionally.
There’s always risk. No one is blind to the dangers of free agency. But there’s more risk letting Martinez walk.
The Sox are boxed in. And as far as any big free agent move goes, inking Martinez is much more defensible than many other deals. There's no qualifying offer attached.
The present market is what matters most for the Sox, rightfully. How far are other teams willing to go?
From the player side, there is precedent behind the seven-year ask. Martinez, entering his age-30 season, would be locked up through his age-36 season. Matt Holliday, a Boras client, got a seven-year deal through age 36. Same with Chris Davis. And Mark Teixeira got an eight-year deal through age 36. (David Price got a seven-year deal through age-36, for what it’s worth.)
Everyone knows these deals don’t often work out at the back end. The Sox should strive for the fewest years possible. But there is precedent in the demand.
Dombo has been payday happy in the past. At times, late Tigers owner Mike Ilitch pushed Dombrowski to moves he didn’t want to do — some moves smart, some not. (Dombrowski didn't want to pay Max Scherzer $200 million, but wound up paying Price even more in Boston.)
But Dombrowski should not need John Henry or anyone else to affirm this observation: after a year without David Ortiz, after a decrease in production from others in the lineup and now, ratcheted up expectations with a new manager, the Sox need Martinez. (Henry and co. were willing to give Teiexiera a longer deal than whatever Martinez will likely end up with.)
Everything that brought the Red Sox to this point — some mismanagement with previous contracts, misjudgments in need and depth — well, that stuff is complicated. The series of events preceding this moment was not simple.
But a move to help fix things, in this case, seems clear as day, even if it has deleterious effects years down the road.
The product is what matters most. Martinez is a monster.
There are six players with an OPS above .930 from 2014-17: Mike Trout (.992), Joey Votto (.982), Paul Goldschmidt (.953), Giancarlo Stanton (.939), Bryce Harper (.937) and Martinez (.936). That’s higher than Kris Bryant (.915) and Nolan Arenado (.911).
Only 10 players under age 30 have posted a season with an OPS above 1.000 this decade.
Martinez’s 128 home runs are 10th most over the past four seasons. From 2015-17, he’s eighth on the list with 105 home runs — the same number as Manny Machado in that time, and two more than Trout.
Martinez’s swing and approach were changed in the 2013-14 offseason. The Astros let Martinez go in spring training and his career took off in Detroit. The overall power is not a fluke.