For the last several weeks, virtually all of the buzz around J.D. Martinez has centered around two teams — the Red Sox and Diamondbacks. Various reports have stated that the Sox have a five-year offer on the table for the slugger that is worth somewhere between $100MM and $125MM, possibly closer to the former figure than the latter. Martinez and agent Scott Boras came into the offseason with a much higher salary in mind, and while time and a lack of suitors has likely dropped that initial $210MM price tag quite a bit, Boston’s apparent unwillingness to increase its offer has turned the situation between Martinez’s camp and the Red Sox into something of a “staredown.”
The D’Backs, meanwhile, also won’t come close to a $210MM figure but their approach has been to see if Martinez would accept some type of unique contract (i.e. a shorter-term deal on a higher average annual value, possibly with a player opt-out clause after a season or two) to return to the desert. Boras has personally met with D’Backs managing general partner Ken Kendrick multiple times over the offseason, plus Martinez said after the season concluded that he greatly enjoyed playing for Arizona, so there is certainly some opportunity for a reunion between the two sides.
Obviously, Martinez’s particularly good relationship with the D’Backs opened the door for their chances at signing him to a deal that may fall short of his original target — he and Boras aren’t likely to be as flexible for a team that Martinez isn’t as familiar with, or isn’t planning on contending in 2018. Still, since the stalemate in the Red Sox negotiations has opened the door for one team to get involved in Martinez’s market, could others follow suit?
Compiling a list of potential JDM suitors in mid-February is tricky, despite the fact that Martinez would boost any lineup in baseball. Concerns about Martinez’s injury history and his lack of defensive value as an outfielder haven’t gone away, and the unprecedentedly slow free agent market is also an impediment to a signing on a couple of fronts. Firstly, a team could pass on Martinez for one of several other notable bats who are available at a lower price. Secondly, some of the “Team X could be a fit for Martinez if they made another trade” scenarios are problematic since these hypothetical teams could be wary of having a positional surplus in a market where potential trade partners could, again, just opt to sign someone else.
Let’s begin by eliminating the teams that clearly don’t seem feasible, whether because they’re rebuilding or due to a lack of payroll: the Marlins, Reds, Padres, Pirates, Rays, Royals, Tigers, Indians, and Athletics. It’s worth noting that while San Diego and Kansas City may be prepared to offer a nine-figure contract to Eric Hosmer, their interest in such a splurge extends specifically to Hosmer himself due to his youth (he is over two years younger than Martinez).
Beyond those teams, you have another wide array of clubs who can likely be eliminated since they’ve already added outfielders this winter or had crowded outfield/DH situations to begin with: the Mets, Phillies, Braves, Cardinals, Cubs, Brewers, Dodgers, Giants, Blue Jays, Yankees, Angels, and Astros. A few of these teams were linked to Martinez in rumors earlier in the offseason, but St. Louis (Marcell Ozuna), San Francisco (Andrew McCutchen), and Toronto (Curtis Granderson, Randal Grichuk) all went in different directions for their outfield needs.
With 21 teams and the Red Sox and D’Backs already covered, let’s look at the seven remaining clubs, some more feasible than others…
Orioles: Signing Martinez would push top prospect Austin Hays from right field favorite to versatile fourth outfielder, likely spelling Martinez or Mark Trumbo (whomever isn’t the DH) on a regular basis as a late-inning defensive replacement. With Manny Machado and Adam Jones both entering their final year under contract, signing Martinez would be a clear sign that Baltimore plans to contend beyond the Machado/Jones era should both leave in free agency. Unless the O’s plan to simply try and out-mash opponents next year, however, it seems far more likely that the team will use any available dollars on pitching, as the Orioles still have as many as three rotation spots that are still up in the air. Beyond that, Baltimore generally only spends big money when it comes to extending or re-signing their own players, not in splurging on new talent.
Rangers: Essentially, it’s the same scenario as the Orioles, with Martinez blocking another notable prospect (Willie Calhoun) and serving as long-term lineup reinforcement if other big stars (Elvis Andrus/Adrian Beltre) aren’t back in 2019. The only difference is that Texas has already made some significant moves to shore up its rotation, and GM Jon Daniels has been open to big free agent signings in the past. A connection here also seems pretty far-fetched, as the Rangers have been wary about further extending payroll this winter.
Mariners: GM Jerry Dipoto is much more prone to make a big trade than a big free agent signing, plus Seattle already has Mitch Haniger and Ben Gamel lined up for regular corner outfield duty, with Nelson Cruz locked in at designated hitter. With Cruz only under contract for one more season, however, the Mariners could envision a scenario where Gamel becomes a bench player while Martinez fills the other corner slot, with an eye towards Martinez shifting into a DH/part-time outfielder role come 2019. A Seattle/Martinez link makes only a bit more sense than the Rangers or Orioles since it’s a better positional fit, and if a Martinez contract will require some outside-the-box thinking at this stage in the offseason, one can’t rule out the team that acquired Dee Gordon to play center field.
Rockies: Or, for that matter, maybe you can’t count out the team that signed Ian Desmond last winter to play first base. Signing Martinez would send Desmond back to first, which would temporarily block prospect Ryan McMahon. Desmond could shift back to the outfield in 2019, potentially, if Charlie Blackmon left in free agency and Gerardo Parra’s club option wasn’t exercised, leaving the 2019 Colorado outfield as some combination of Desmond, JDM and possibly Raimel Tapia or David Dahl. Moreso than the O’s, Rangers, or Mariners, the Rox are my favorite of the “block a good prospect to go for it in 2019” group, though as with the other teams, payroll is also a concern. Signing Martinez would more or less rule out re-signing Blackmon, and the team also presumably needs some future payroll space available to explore a Nolan Arenado extension. There’s also added risk in a Martinez signing for a National League team given the lack of a DH spot to account for his defensive issues.
Nationals: Realistically, Washington is in the “crowded outfield” group thanks to their set alignment of Adam Eaton in left, Michael Taylor in center and Bryce Harper in right. Signing Martinez would put Eaton or Harper in line for much more center field duty than the Nats would like, as Taylor would be pushed to the bench. That said, the relationship between Boras and the Lerner family is so well-documented that one can’t ignore the Nationals when it comes to any high-profile Boras client. Plus, you could make the argument that Taylor’s presence allows for regular rest for Martinez, Harper, and Eaton, which helps the trio with checkered injury histories stay fresh throughout the season and into October. The Nats are another team facing significant free agent departures after 2018 in the form of Harper and Daniel Murphy, so Martinez is a hedge against either departing. (Which creates another interesting dynamic since Harper is also represented by Boras.)
White Sox: Like the Phillies’ signing of Carlos Santana this offseason or the Nationals’ signing of Jayson Werth in December 2010, a White Sox/Martinez contract would be the type of “stay tuned” deal made by a rebuilding team that is announcing its impending intention to compete. The White Sox have lots of payroll room, plus lineup space at DH or in either corner outfield spot — Martinez and Avisail Garcia would play every day, with Leury Garcia also seeing a lot of action and Nicky Delmonico and the players in the center field mix battling for bench duty. (There’s also a chance Eloy Jimenez could force his way into the picture sometime during the season.) Such a signing would be a bold move from GM Rick Hahn, though it may be too much of a risk at this point in Chicago’s rebuilding process. Inking Martinez would essentially be declaring that the rebuild will be over in 2019, and that may be too early a call given that so many of the promising young players in the organization have yet to establish themselves at the MLB level, or have yet to reach the bigs whatsoever.
Twins: Okay, so this one is one of those “Team X could be a fit for Martinez if they made another trade” situations I decried earlier in this post, though this one comes with some basis in recent rumors. With the Rays reportedly interested in Max Kepler, a scenario exists where Minnesota deals Kepler as part of a trade package for Jake Odorizzi or Chris Archer. With a newly-created hole in right field, the Twins then sign Martinez, who could also join the team’s planned DH rotation (especially if Miguel Sano faces a suspension). Needless to say, adding JDM would more than address the Minnesota lineup’s issues against left-handed pitching. A Martinez contract would be a big expense for a smaller-market team like the Twins, and their offseason focus has been almost entirely pitching-centric. On the flip side, the team has so little payroll committed beyond 2018 that they could feasibly add Martinez, one of Archer or Odorizzi, and still be able to afford another decent starter given the stalled free agent market.