J.D.-Day has arrived for the Red Sox.
Slugger J.D. Martinez has until 11:59 p.m. ET Monday to opt out of the final three years and $62.5 million remaining on his contract and become a free agent. If he declines, he'll remain in Boston for at least another year and make $23.75 million in 2020.
The Red Sox and new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom cannot begin to plan for their offseason until Martinez makes his decision, which will significantly impact their payroll. Martinez is the first and in many ways most important domino that must fall, and what happens next could spider in countless directions. So let's break it down.
If Martinez opts in, the offense will be guaranteed a centerpiece slugger who can join Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts in one of the most potent 2-3-4 combos in baseball. Martinez has hit .317 and averaged 40 homers and 118 RBIs in his two years with the Red Sox. He's also comfortable being the focal point of opposing pitching staffs, providing the same type of presence as future Hall of Famer David Ortiz.
The problem with Martinez staying is it greatly increases the likelihood that defending MVP Mookie Betts will be shipped out. Betts, who on Sunday won his fourth straight Gold Glove, is entering the final year of his contract and will make close to $30 million in arbitration.
If the Red Sox are serious about dropping below the $208 million luxury tax threshold — sorry if we're skeptical about their wish-not-a-mandate spin — then that task becomes borderline impossible with Betts and Martinez on the roster, barring a trade of a starting pitcher.
In Betts, Martinez, David Price, Chris Sale, and Nathan Eovaldi alone, the Red Sox will have roughly $130 million committed to just five players. Add Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia, and we're talking $165 million for seven players, one of whom is effectively retired.
An argument can be made that the Red Sox can't afford Martinez or Betts if they want to drop below $208 million. So if the former stays, it sure feels like the latter is gone.
If Martinez opts out of his deal, a giant hole just opened in the middle of the lineup that won't be fully appreciated until he's gone. Remember 2017 when virtually every young hitter took a giant step back in the team's first season without Ortiz? Bogaerts hit 10 homers. Andrew Benintendi posted a .776 OPS. Betts followed an MVP runner-up campaign by hitting just .264. That's the potential future the Red Sox risk returning to without Martinez locking down the heart of the order.
While there's always a chance he examines the market and strikes a deal to return to Boston, it's telling that the Red Sox haven't made him an offer beyond what's left on his contract. In different circumstances, with more payroll flexibility, it would be easy to envision the Red Sox ripping up the final three years of his deal and either bumping his salary to $25 million annually or giving him a fourth season.
In all likelihood, if Martinez opts out, that will put the Red Sox in the market for a new cleanup hitter, because there isn't one on the roster. Maybe it's veteran slugger Edwin Encarnacion, who just topped 30 home runs for the eighth straight season, but didn't have his option picked up by the Yankees. Maybe it's a scrap heap selection who surprises, as routinely occurred in Tampa under Bloom. Whomever it is will almost certainly be a downgrade.
Martinez's absence would increase the odds of keeping Betts, however, since Martinez's money could be used to absorb one more year of Mookie. It doesn't change the fundamental issue of whether the team can afford Betts long-term, but it at least creates the possibility of making one final run with the star right fielder.
None of these dominoes can fall until Martinez makes a decision, however, and that day has finally arrived.
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