J.D. Martinez is the newest member of the Boston Red Sox. Good Lord that was a long four months. No matter how you feel about this signing, I think we can all be at least a little glad that this thing IS FINALLY OVER. I don’t know how much more Scott Boras nonsense I could take, or “J.D. Martinez rumor” articles popping up in Google News trying to bring me the “latest scoop”.
— Butch Stearns (@ButchStearns) February 21, 2018
On to business.
Martinez in on his way to Boston with a five-year, $110 million dollar contract in his pocket. He will make $50 million of the total value of the contract in the first two years, and can opt out of the deal at the end of the second year. My first reaction: What happened to the whole “seven years, $200 million” thing that kicked off the off-season? When compared to that, this signing looks like a friggin’ steal. Obviously, though, the thriftiness of this deal has yet to be seen, and I for one am not typically in favor of handing out contracts like the one Martinez signed to guys 30 and over (despite his excellent offensive numbers from last year). I still think the Sox should have passed on this guy, but whatever. Now that he’s here, I wish him the best and I look forward to seeing what he can do. At this point, I’m just glad the Red Sox were able to pay somewhat of a reasonable price for the guy.
So what does this signing mean for the Red Sox? Well, there’s quite a bit of ramifications to unpack here, so I’ll break it down as clearly as I can.
You could say that this contract was a win-win for both the team and the player (how often does that happen?). The Sox get the power hitting bat they need at nearly half the total cost Martinez was projected to garner a few months ago, and Martinez gets a front-loaded contract with a chance to walk after two years. The Red Sox can stay under the luxury tax threshold, and Martinez can test the free agent market again sooner rather than later. Dave Dombrowski can claim he at least will go down swinging in the arms race against the Yankees, and the Sox have a new star to market. Everyone goes home happy. Again, as someone who was bracing for Dombrowski to break the bank to get Martinez, this is a relatively okay deal financially if Martinez can produce in 2018. And as far as big money free agents in Boston have gone recently, that will be a big if.
So the Martinez deal may look fine on the books. But there’s one That certainly won’t now that Martinez is here… and that’s Hanley Ramirez. That’s right, El Trece is owed north of $22 million this year, and the Red Sox have already signed another first baseman (Mitch Moreland), along with an incumbent DH in Martinez for the upcoming campaign. So let’s say Hanley gets the start at first base against lefties or DH if Martinez is playing in the outfield. How many games will Ramirez start in total?100? 120? The point is, is that the Red Sox will be paying Hanley almost as much as Martinez this season, and Hanley will not start close to a full season’s worth of games regardless of his health.
And maybe that is exactly what the Red Sox had planned. You see, Hanley has a stipulation in his contract that guarantees him a fifth season at his current $22 million AAV if he surpasses 497 at bats in 2018. So if Hanley can reach that plateau by season’s end, he’s ensured big money for one more year in 2019. He will have a sizable role on this team, but I just don’t know if there is enough playing time to go around for Hanley to vest his fifth season (and perhaps this is what the team expects). It took him 133 games in 2017 to reach 496 at bats, and it’s going to be tough for him to reach that number again with competition at both first base and DH this season.
And speaking of playing time, this brings us to…
Now that Bryce Brentz has been traded, it looks like J.D. Martinez is slated to serve as a fourth outfielder behind Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Andrew Benintendi. Ideally, due to his average-to-below-average defense, Martinez can carve out his niche in the DH role, leaving Betts, Bradley, and Benintendi to man the outfield and Moreland and Ramirez to split time at first, with the other at DH if Martinez is ever in the field. The fact that Martinez can provide at least something defensively in the outfield will help if the Sox find themselves with injuries, but his playing time should be relegated primarily to DH. And if Martinez is in that fourth outfielder role, I expect the Red Sox to use their final few roster spots for utility infield guys like Deven Marrero, Marco Hernandez, or Blake Swihart once the regular season begins.
Now, I’ve seen a lot of different permutations of the batting order floating around online since Martinez signing was announced. And I think it’s too early to tell, especially before any Spring Training games have been played, how exactly the lineup will fall in to place for new manager Alex Cora. But here’s what I would like to see, given the pieces they have at the moment. (Note: this is a projected Opening Day lineup, assuming Dustin Pedroia is still hurt)
1. Mookie Betts, RF
2. Andrew Benintendi, LF
3. Rafael Devers, 3B
4. J.D. Martinez, DH
5. Mitch Moreland/ Hanley Ramirez, 1B
6. Xander Bogaerts, SS
7. Eduardo Nunez, 2B
8. Christian Vazquez, C
9. Jackie Bradley, Jr., CF
The one thing about my ideal lineup here that seems to differ from others online is the placement of Devers in the third spot. Others usually seem to have him batting somewhere between fifth and seventh. But I want to see this kid develop, and I think he has the pop to reach 25 homers and 80 RBIs easily, if not more. I’d love to see him bat with the protection of Martinez behind him and Betts and Benintendi on base ahead of him. And as for Martinez, he should find himself in heaven with a trio like that in front of him. Needless to say, the addition of Martinez in the middle of the lineup brings a nice power dynamic to a speedy lineup that can hit for average from top to bottom. There’s a hell of a lot to like here on paper.
But it’s going to be at least three or four more months before we know if the J.D. Martinez signing was well timed and well executed, or if the move will go the way of Pablo Sandoval or Carl Crawford. I think the Sox should have held off and used this money next year on Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, but I would love for Martinez to prove me wrong. Here’s to hoping that J.D. can deliver that power bat the fans in Boston are itching for, and that he is able to endure the media barrage that will follow if he can’t. Because being a big ticket signing in Boston ain’t easy. Just ask Pablo.
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