J.D. Martinez

Sox Drawer: Moving on from J.D. Martinez, trading for Mookie Betts and more from the hot stove

Sox Drawer: Moving on from J.D. Martinez, trading for Mookie Betts and more from the hot stove

All right, the World Series is over. Free agency is underway. The Hot Stove is here. Let’s begin by sending clairvoyant messages to all 30 teams, the players and their agents to make this a swift, exciting and piping-hot offseason, especially when it comes to your White Sox.

Unfortunately, the first day of free agency was a downer for many of you who were hoping the White Sox would sign a certain Red Sox DH by the name of J.D. Martinez. There were many questions about him and the White Sox DH conundrum, plus Nicholas Castellanos, Starling Marte, Eloy Jimenez, my all-time favorite White Sox player and this unexpected inquiry: Is Prince Fielder coming out of retirement to sign with the White Sox?

You never know what you’re going to get inside the Sox Drawer. Let’s get to it.

Is it OK to cry about J.D. Martinez? — @Angel121695

I hear ya, Angel. Martinez stunned many White Sox fans on Monday when he decided not to opt out of his contract with the Red Sox. He’d be a perfect fit for the White Sox, who got the least DH production of any AL team last season (.208/.285/.362). Martinez would be a huge upgrade on the field and in the clubhouse with the young hitters. If he did opt out, there certainly wasn’t a guarantee that he’d sign with the White Sox. Rick Hahn hasn’t said a word about Martinez publicly, but considering the White Sox need and Martinez possibly becoming available, it didn’t take much to link the two together. I’ve got some tissues for you if you need them. Though Martinez opting in for 2020 doesn’t mean there’s a zero-percent chance he can’t end up with the White Sox. More on that in a moment.

Get the Boston reporters back on the podcast and explain themselves. — @mtmill10

Seriously. The Martinez-to-the-White Sox fervor seemed to really take off after we had John Tomase from NBC Sports Boston on the White Sox Talk Podcast.

With so few teams needing a DH, I had been skeptical that Martinez would actually opt out of his contract. He appeared to have very little leverage and too much to risk by becoming a free agent in this market. But Tomase, who covers the Red Sox, said on the podcast that Martinez was “gone, G-O-N-E” from Boston, and he predicted that he’d end up signing with the White Sox. Yeah, I fell for it.

However, Tomase wasn’t the only Red Sox writer who said that Martinez would leave Boston. In early October, the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham wrote, “Say goodbye to Martinez. It was a good two seasons (in Boston).” He added that the White Sox “are a good bet” to sign him. Yeah, I fell for that, too.

Do you see (Mookie) Betts or J.D. Martinez as realistic trade targets as the other Sox cut payroll?  — @akleinerman

Who would you rather trade for? Mookie or Martinez? Also, what would it cost to get one of them? — @lito2313​​​​​​​

The fallout from Martinez opting in for 2020 has a bunch of tentacles that could potentially affect many players and many teams, including the White Sox. Red Sox ownership has stated their need to cut payroll to get under the luxury tax this offseason. Martinez opting in for $23.5 million doesn’t exactly help them out in that regard. Nor would keeping Betts, who is projected to earn $27.7 million in arbitration and has one year left of team control before he hits free agency. New Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has to play a game of payroll Tetris as he looks to shed salary and field a competitive team at the same time.

Betts is a 27-year-old superstar who plays right field, and it just so happens that the White Sox need one of those. The White Sox could try to acquire Betts like they reportedly attempted to do with Manny Machado two winters ago, giving him a season to feel comfortable with the team and then attempt to sign him to a long-term deal when he becomes a free agent after next season. It’s a big one-year risk to make, but if he’s someone the White Sox are targeting for their future, then it would make sense to go down that road. What would it take to acquire Betts? I don’t have the answer, but considering you’d be giving the Red Sox huge salary relief, the cost might not be as crazy as you think. That said, there could be some serious competition around the league for Betts, which would drive up the price. Though this wasn’t the case when the Orioles listened to offers for Machado, didn’t like what they heard and ultimately chose to keep him.

As for Martinez, his situation might be more complicated. Since he has another opportunity to opt out of his contract after next season and his salary drops by more than $4 million in 2021 and 2022, are you acquiring him for one year or three? Maybe a team trying to trade for him puts conditions in the deal, adding players to be named later if Martinez doesn’t opt out and plays all three years with his new team.

The Red Sox also have high-priced pitchers with bad contracts, including David Price and Nathan Eovaldi. Jackie Bradley, Jr had a rough season offensively. He has one year left before free agency. Some kind of roster shuffle is coming. It behooves the White Sox to sniff around what’s happening with the Red Sox, because they’re a good match for each other: The Red Sox need payroll relief, while the White Sox have money to spend and would like to take the next step in 2020.

We broke down the entire Martinez situation on the latest White Sox Talk Podcast.

I’m actually curious about the “process” of a player becoming a DH and becoming comfortable in that role. Edwin (Encarnacion) and J.D. played the field at one point and had to learn to just hit, so what does it take? Seems like Edwin is the only FA that one would call a full-time DH. — @bmarsh442003​​​​​​​

From players I’ve spoken to about it — Frank Thomas, Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, Adam Dunn, Harold Baines, Yonder Alonso — they’ve all said that there’s much more to being a DH than just going up to the plate and hitting. It’s definitely a skill, and it’s not for everybody. The biggest key is the hitter’s mental approach, being able to stay focused on the game and remain engaged while sitting on the bench, sometimes for an hour between at-bats. That’s why most players prefer to be at a position in the field than be the regular DH. If there’s one common link to all the great DH’s we’ve seen, they’ve all had a special mental tool that allowed them to thrive, even though they were only at the plate for a few minutes during a three-hour game.

Check out these career stats as a DH. You might see a pattern here as you get toward the bottom.

— Thomas: .275/.394/.505 in 1,310 games

— Baines: .291/.370/.467 in 1,643 games

— Konerko: .274/.350/.454 in 345 games

— Thome: .264/.391/.531 in 817 games

— Dunn: .200/.316/.401 in 361 games

— LaRoche: .187/.275/.285 in 81 games

— Alonso: .170/.294/.314 in 49 games

And here are the career DH stats for Martinez and Encarnacion, which helps explain why they would be good fits for the White Sox.

— Martinez: .288/.360/.537 in 238 games

— Encarnacion: .268/.365/.518 in 723 games

Based on the White Sox needs in pitching, what pitcher in your view has the postseason experience, play on the mound and skills to be a good leader and player for a young White Sox rotation? White Sox Talk Podcast is awesome!! — @WilliamDFarlow​​​​​​​

Thanks for listening to the podcast, William. I’ve got two pitchers who check all those boxes, are free agents and would be great fits with the White Sox: Madison Bumgarner and Dallas Keuchel.

Bumgarner was a playoff horse for the Giants, throwing 102.1 postseason innings by the time he was 26 years old. He was the World Series MVP in 2014. He’s 30 now. Maybe not the same pitcher he was in his 20s, but neither was Jon Lester when he signed his long-term deal with the Cubs at age 30. That’s worked out pretty well.

Keuchel is another southpaw who has Bumgarner’s leadership qualities and knows exactly what it takes to go from a rebuild to a World Series title since he did it with the Astros.

Of course, Gerrit Cole wouldn’t be a bad choice, either.

Do you think Nick Castellanos can be a great long-term fit in right field even with his questionable defense? — @MakowskiMatthew​​​​​​​

I’d have to say no. The White Sox already have Eloy Jimenez in left field. He finished with minus-11 Defensive Runs Saved in 2019, fourth worst among major league left fielders, better only than Dwight Smith Jr., Shi-Soo Choo and Justin Upton. Castellanos finished with minus-9 DRS, which was fourth worst among major league right fielders, better only than Randal Grichuk, Franmil Reyes and Melky Cabrera. That’s not a good combination defensively and would put a lot of pressure on rookie Luis Robert in center field.

Castellanos would be better served, long term, as a DH. For his career, he’s hit .283/.301/.494 as a DH. Though I’m not sure he’s ready to play that position full time at 28 years old. My guess is he’ll sign with a team that already has a good defensive left fielder and center fielder and is willing to sacrifice the limitations of Castellanos in right for the production he’ll bring to the plate.

By the way, Yolmer Sanchez had 11 DRS in 2019, tops among American League second basemen. DRS doesn’t tell the whole story about a player defensively, but it’s one stat to look at. Sanchez won his first career Gold Glove. Congrats to Yolmer!

How drunk are the people in charge of the Rookie of the Year voting to allow Brandon Lowe over Eloy Jimenez? Yikes. That is brutal. — @Donopolis1​​​​​​​

Not sure, but they better not have been driving after making that vote.

That or they didn’t look hard enough at Jimenez, or didn’t realize that Lowe played only six games the entire second half of the season due to injury. Or they punished Jimenez for his defense, which seems extreme for a Rookie of the Year Award.

Lowe did have a great first half, with 16 home runs and 49 RBIs for the Rays, earning him a spot on the All-Star team. But when it comes to rookies with limited playing experience, I like to see them actually play, especially as the season goes on.

In the month of September, Jimenez was one of the best hitters in the majors, slashing .340/.383/.710. He finished the season with 31 home runs, one of only 11 players ever to hit 30 or more home runs in their debut season. (Thanks to Chris Kamka for that stat.) The baseball might have helped boost that home-run total a bit, but then it also helped the 5-foot-10 Lowe crank 17 dingers of his own.

In the end, it won’t matter. Yordan Alvarez is going to run away with the award. He was a beast after getting called up (.313/.412/.655). But how about some respect for Jimenez? As I tweeted when the news came out, “You gotta be bleeping me!”

Should we expect another slow offseason with free agent signings? — @Philip_12

Fingers crossed it won’t be. The last two winters have been painstakingly slow. I wish I could say things will be different this time around. It’s so much better for the game when the hot stove actually is that in November and December and we see a flurry of moves during the Winter Meetings (which take place Dec. 9 through Dec. 12 in San Diego). Nobody knows for sure what to expect. The league is looking at ways to incentivize teams to spend early. Easier said than done.

What gives me hope that it might be a more active winter is the sheer number of teams that seem to be trying to add and improve, maybe twice the amount from last year. With more teams in the picture competing for free agents and making trades, there’s a chance we’ll see more wheeling and dealing sooner rather than later.

Make a trade for Starling Marte since Pittsburgh exercised his option? — @KMcCar91​​​​​​​

Marte has never played right field (577 games in left, 359 in center), but I assume he could move over and be fine. He’s 31, has two years remaining on his contract, and the Pirates are a mess, currently without a GM. Depending on who they hire and what direction they want to go in, Marte could be on the trading block. I like him.

What do you think the rotation will look like? — @NateWags11​​​​​​​

Here’s what I’m thinking (and hoping):

1. Free-agent pitcher to be named later
2. Lucas Giolito
3. Dylan Cease
4. Michael Kopech
5. Reynaldo Lopez or free-agent pitcher to be named later

Favorite White Sox player ever? — @Bradley_Brodksy​​​​​​​

It’s too tough to go with one favorite. How about I go by decade in my lifetime with personal honorable mentions because I like them almost as much.

1970s: Chet Lemon (Bill Melton)

1980s: Harold Baines (Julio Cruz)

1990s: Frank Thomas (Bo Jackson and “The Deacon” Warren Newson)

2000s: Mark Buehrle (Paul Konerko and Juan Uribe)

2010s: Jose Abreu (Eloy Jimenez)

And finally ...

Hey Chuck, I know a lot of people that know a lot of people. Word in the clubhouse right now, something about Prince Fielder being interested in coming back and possibly playing a year with our South Siders. What do you think? — @BrodnerDan

If true, this would be something, a medical and baseball miracle. Fielder hasn’t played since July 2016 after needing a second cervical fusion in his neck. He later announced he would no longer be able to play the game and retired. Not sure what people you know, but that would be an interesting scoop, to say the least. Oh, and it would possibly solve the White Sox hole at DH.

Prince Fielder, at 35, making a comeback with the White Sox? I wouldn’t mind covering that story in spring training. Any chance you’re related to Wetbutt23?

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Martinez? Betts? Benintendi? Could White Sox seek big splash via trade with Red Sox?

Martinez? Betts? Benintendi? Could White Sox seek big splash via trade with Red Sox?

When J.D. Martinez decided not to opt out of the remainder of his contract with the Boston Red Sox on Monday, you could hear the groans coming from the South Side of Chicago.

"Here we go again."

It wasn't quite like the Manny Machado saga from a year ago, which dragged on for months before a conclusion that still has White Sox fans stewing with anger. But it was another case of wishing, hoping and — perhaps most notably — hearing about speculation. Martinez made all the sense in the world as a potential White Sox target this winter, just as there was so much upside to chasing an elite talent like Machado last winter. But the result was the same: no superstar on the South Side.

Of course, this offseason is just beginning, and the White Sox certainly plan to be aggressive once more in pursuing big names. One of the goals of Rick Hahn's rebuilding effort is to bring in an impact talent from outside the organization. With all that Machado money still able to be allocated, the possibility exists that this winter, with its Coles and its Rendons and its Bumgarners, could be the time to deploy those dollars.

There's been a heavy focus on free agency not just because of the big names out there, but because of the perception of the White Sox ability to make trades. Past Luis Robert, Nick Madrigal and Michael Kopech — all firmly part of the White Sox long-term plans — the next tier of guys in the minor leagues was plagued by injuries and under-performance. And as a result, it seems, from the outside, it would be rather difficult for Hahn to construct a package of prospects alluring enough to pry away one of the game's great talents. Just look back to the deals Hahn pulled off that sent Chris Sale, Adam Eaton and Jose Quintana away. The White Sox don't have prospects the caliber of Kopech, Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Eloy Jimenez and Dylan Cease to construct those kinds of packages.

But the White Sox, when dealing away Sale, Eaton and Quintana, weren't exactly desperate. The Red Sox might be.

Up in Boston, there's a well publicized effort to trim salary, chiefly with the goal of getting under the luxury tax. The Red Sox had one of the three highest payrolls in baseball last season, and Dave Dombrowski lost his job for inking pricey long-term deals that now sit like albatrosses around the necks of the Beantown-based ancient mariners. Sale got one of them. David Price got another. Nathan Eovaldi got one, too. And with Martinez opting to stick with the remaining $62.5 million on his contract — for now, anyway; he can opt out again next winter if he so pleases — the Red Sox are going to have to shed salary via trade. Because those three pitchers are so pricey and not exactly the guys they were when they signed those deals in the first place, that leaves Boston with the very real necessity to trade away either Martinez or Mookie Betts.

Those are two players who would qualify as the kind of big splash the White Sox are looking to make. Could a deal with the Red Sox be the route the White Sox take to get there?

Martinez still seems like a perfect fit, and you can't blame him for sticking with the $23.75 million he's set to make this season and three potential years of job security rather than testing a free-agent market that might have been limited to a small handful of American League teams. But maybe there is still a chance he ends up on the South Side. The Athletic's Chad Jennings had this to say about a potential union between the two differently colored pairs of Sox:

"The White Sox do have quite a few young starting pitchers who either underperformed or were hurt in 2019. Among them was 25-year-old Reynaldo Lopez, who became a source of frustration. Perhaps the Red Sox could find a way to get one of those pitchers involved to fill an immediate need. If not, the Red Sox could be satisfied with a lesser prospect or two, which would still be more return than they would have gotten if Martinez had opted out."

Now certainly Lopez or a "lesser prospect or two" sounds like a reasonable return for up to three years of Martinez. Of course, therein lies the rub with any deal for Martinez: He can opt out of his deal at this time next year, meaning any team that were to deal for him would be doing so for potentially just one season. The same is true in any deal for Betts, who like Martinez is one of the game's elite hitters. Yes, perhaps the return package would be uniquely lessened with Boston wanting to get rid of salary — Betts is projected to receive a whopping $27.7 million through arbitration — but Betts is supposedly dedicated to reaching his own free agency next winter, making him a mere a one-year rental.

If Hahn's front office wants to stick to their focus on the long term, shopping for one-year rentals might not make a lot of sense. But there are other ways to help the Red Sox shed salary, ones that might line up better with the White Sox planned contention window.

That's where The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal comes in. He threw out a lot of possibilities when talking about the Red Sox situation Tuesday morning, and one seemed mighty intriguing from a White Sox standpoint.

"A better path might be to move left-hander David Price, who is owed $96 million over the next three years, or righty Nathan Eovaldi, who is owed $51 million over the next three. Impossible, you say? Well, what if the Red Sox included cash in a trade and also attached left fielder Andrew Benintendi, who remains cost-effective as he enters his first year of arbitration?"

Now that is interesting. Yes, it involves paying and dedicating a roster spot to Price or Eovaldi, who despite their heroics in the 2018 World Series, aren't very dreamy adds for a White Sox team looking to ramp up to perennial contention. Those guys' contracts are albatrosses in Boston. They wouldn't get much better in Chicago, even though the White Sox are in no danger of bumping up to the luxury tax. But both Price and Eovaldi could be usable pitchers for the White Sox in 2020 and beyond, even if they aren't performing at a level their contracts say they should be.

The real appealing element of that suggestion, though, is the upside of Benintendi. He has three affordable, arbitration-eligible seasons remaining until he hits free agency, making him a long-term piece. He's also very good, with a .277/.354/.442 slash line to go along with 51 homers in his 471-game big league career. Like much of what happened last season in Boston, 2019 was nowhere near as good as 2018 for Benintendi, who posted career highs in hits, runs scored, doubles, stolen bases, walks and on-base percentage during the Red Sox march to a world championship. In 2019, he slashed .266/.343/.431 with 13 homers, 40 doubles, 68 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 138 games. He also struck out 34 more times in 10 fewer games.

Benintendi brings additional value as a left-handed hitter, something almost completely missing from the White Sox lineup. He is also a left fielder, a position the White Sox have filled with Jimenez. Neither player has ever played right field, and putting either there could be signing up for some unwanted defensive issues down the road. But Benintendi is a young, controllable, very good baseball player, and that seems like the kind of thing the White Sox, who have worked hard to achieve their much discussed financial flexibility, would be interested in.

Who knows if the White Sox are looking to make a move for any of these potentially acquirable Red Sox. But their supposed availability — at a price you rarely see for such talent — given the situation in Boston could make for interesting opportunities.

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J.D. Martinez staying with Red Sox: Now where can White Sox look for a DH?

J.D. Martinez staying with Red Sox: Now where can White Sox look for a DH?

Here's a wrench thrown into the free-agent market.

According to multiple reports, J.D. Martinez will not opt out of his contract with the Boston Red Sox, plucking the would-be top designated hitter off the market and leaving teams shopping for a DH this winter looking for alternative options.

The White Sox, of course, are one of those teams, with general manager Rick Hahn naming designated hitter as one of three positions his front office would target this offseason. Martinez seemed like a perfect fit, one of the game's elite hitters who has tons of DH-ing experience and could slide into the middle of the lineup on the South Side. He's also been described as a positive clubhouse influence who helped turn Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts into two of the better hitters in baseball.

But Martinez would have been leaving a lot of money on the table had he opted out, three years and $62.5 million, to be specific. And considering the White Sox were one of a small handful of teams that would have been looking for a DH this winter, the chances of Martinez getting that money back and more this winter might not have been favorable to the player and his agent, Scott Boras. Reportedly, the Red Sox, who are facing a bit of a financial pickle, are willing to listen to trade offers for Martinez. But given how the White Sox mid-tier prospects performed in 2019, it's difficult, though not impossible, to envision a package that could net an impact player of Martinez's caliber.

The White Sox, who were never reported to have any specific interest in Martinez during this early portion of the hot stove season, will now have to turn to other options. There aren't many who, like Martinez, count DH-ing as their trade. Edwin Encarnacion has hit at least 32 home runs in each of the last eight seasons, but he's also about to turn 37 and seems like more of a short-term move. Other options on the free-agent market are mostly limited to guys who haven't done a ton of DH-ing in their careers, such as Nicholas Castellanos and Mike Moustakas.

Why does that matter? Well, there has been a hit-or-miss history of trying to plug non-DHs into DH-sized holes, most recently Yonder Alonso, who joined the 2019 White Sox with just seven career games at DH in his career. He slumped miserably during his three months in a White Sox uniform and was released in early July.

Of course, the White Sox could look at internal options to plug their hole at designated hitter, but none are terribly attractive. Jose Abreu — a free agent who figures to be back with the White Sox next season — doesn't like to DH, and Hahn probably wouldn't want to create another hole that needs filling by moving him to DH. The White Sox have expressed a desire to find ways to get Zack Collins' bat into the lineup, but he's still a bit of an unknown, making it difficult to bank on him filling the DH role for the majority of the 2020 season. Andrew Vaughn, who swings a power bat, was the team's first-round pick in last summer's draft, though he might not be ready for the major leagues in 2020.

If the White Sox were circling Martinez as the big bat to add to their lineup, they might now have to look at players who would require them to rearrange the defensive alignment, such as high-profile third basemen Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson.

Martinez seemed like a perfect fit for the White Sox, but he's keeping his stockings red.

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