It’s easy for White Sox fans to want J.D. Martinez on the South Side.
The guy was so good for the 2018 world-champion Boston Red Sox that he won not one but two Silver Sluggers, that in addition to his fourth-place finish in the AL MVP vote. He’s launched 184 homers since the start of the 2015 season. He’s a three-time All Star and one of the best sluggers in the game.
He’s expected to be one of the headliners on the free-agent market this winter — if he, as is anticipated, opts out of the remaining three years on his deal in Beantown — and would be the ideal solution to the White Sox problem at designated hitter. Martinez slashed .304/.383/.557 in 2019, compared to the abysmal .205/.285/.356 line put up by White Sox DHs.
But let’s make White Sox fans even more gaga for this guy.
Martinez’s unrivaled production makes him the dream add to the middle of the White Sox batting order, but there are other attributes that come with any player, and it sounds as if Martinez has ones the White Sox should crave.
Talking with NBC Sports Boston’s John Tomase on Tuesday’s edition of the White Sox Talk Podcast, we here in Chicago learned some more about Martinez as a clubhouse presence and an influence on young up-and-coming stars.
“This is what could make Chicago an intriguing destination for him and for them: You obviously have that great young core on the left side with (Yoan) Moncada and (Tim) Anderson and (Eloy) Jimenez, and those are guys that could benefit from J.D. Martinez,” Tomase said. “When he arrived with the Red Sox, one of the first things he did was he took Mookie Betts under his wing, he took Xander Bogaerts under his wing. And he’s a guy that’s one of those old-school, ‘I will talk to you about hitting, I have a million ideas about hitting, and that is all we will talk about,’ and that’s exactly what those guys needed.
“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Mookie became an MVP — I know he had been second in that race a couple years earlier — but he was the MVP last year. And Bogaerts, in particular, was somebody who hit the ball as hard as anybody in baseball, but it was always on the ground, and J.D. was the one who convinced him, even more than Red Sox hitting coaches, who tried to get the same message across, ‘You need to start hitting the ball in the air. If you hit it 110 miles an hour with a launch angle of one degree, it’s going to be a ground out to short. If it’s a 14-degree launch angle, it’s a double off the wall.’
“And so when I look at Chicago’s young nucleus of hitters, I say, ‘J.D. Martinez could be a perfect fit for that group.’
“And not only that, he’s bilingual, he’s Cuban-American, he relates to American players, he relates to Hispanic players. So he can sort of be one of those guys who’s a bridge within the clubhouse culture, that’s important. So I just think you can really make a case, if you’re the White Sox, that it would be money well spent to add him to your team.”
That’s music to White Sox fans’ ears.
Many of those same fans, of course, will remain skeptical that the White Sox can land a big-name free agent, especially after the way last offseason’s Manny Machado sweepstakes played out. General manager Rick Hahn has said that skepticism will remain and any “false narratives” about the team will persist until his front office proves them wrong.
The White Sox have the financial flexibility to pay a big-name, big-money free agent like Martinez. Whether they will outbid other suitors remains to be seen, obviously, and they didn’t outbid the San Diego Padres, in terms of guaranteed money, for Machado last winter.
But just as crucial a factor will be getting these free agents to buy into the White Sox bright future. Hahn argues he’s in a much better position to do that this time around than he was last year thanks to the 2019 performances of Moncada, Anderson, Jimenez, Lucas Giolito and others.
“I really think we’ve gotten to the point where we don’t need to sell the team or talk about the future because it’s evident to everyone around the league what’s coming,” he said during his end-of-season press conference last month. “I’ve heard from my peers in other organizations, I know I’ve heard from players in the clubhouse what their peers have said. The coaches talk. There’s a lot of positive buzz about where this team is headed.
“When you are talking to some free agents, last year, we were probably a year too soon. You had to map out what it was going to look like and educate them a little bit about who was coming and how we saw this thing coming together. Over the course of this year, we saw a lot of it come together before our eyes, and it’s fairly easy to project out who is going to be joining us from our system and what’s that going to potentially look like. The excitement is there, not just in our clubhouse but around the game right now.”
Tomase described Martinez as more of a “hired gun” who isn’t exactly super emotional when it comes to selecting a team. That matches up with what Martinez, who’s played for three teams in the last three seasons, told the Boston Globe’s Pete Abraham at the end of the season: “I don’t mind moving around. I kind of like it.”
But it’s possible there might not end up being too many teams looking to hire his services this winter. After all, Tomase went as far to say that Martinez “can’t play the outfield anymore,” that “his back flares up if he plays two games in a row out there.” That would figure to take 15 teams out of the running. If Martinez is limited to DH’ing, it’d have to be for a team that, you know, has an opening at DH. That knocks out much of the American League, too. Rebuilding teams that are a long way from contending like the Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles and Kansas City Royals aren’t likely to fork over big bucks for a 32-year-old DH. So that leaves who? Maybe just the White Sox and a handful of other teams.
Maybe that’s a good thing for the White Sox, that there won’t be as much competition. It likely kept them in the running for Machado and Bryce Harper last winter. But they also lost both those derbies, so other factors could be of greater importance.
But regardless of whether or not they’ll end up landing him, at this early stage we can focus on what kind of fit he’d be for these White Sox. And while the “hired gun” stuff is easy to envision, inserting Martinez’s production into a lineup that needs it, having him in the clubhouse working with all the team’s young hitters for the next three or four years sure seems appealing in its own way.
The White Sox have a lot of holes they’ll be trying to plug this winter. Martinez sure sounds like a perfect fit to fill one of them.