The offseason could come sooner than expected for the reigning World Series champion Red Sox, whose playoff chances have dwindled in the year’s second half. Losers of nine of their past 11, the Red Sox sit a stunning 16 games behind the Yankees in the AL East and 5 1/2 back of a wild-card spot. The club has already lost more games in 2019 (56) than it did last regular season (54), and it still has 45 games to go.
Boston’s fall certainly hasn’t been the fault of designated hitter J.D. Martinez, who has been on another of his signature offensive rampages of late. After four straight multi-hit games, his line has climbed to .304/.379/.547 – one of its highest points of the season. Unfortunately for the Red Sox, these may be the final weeks with the club for Martinez. He’ll dive back into free agency if he opts out of his contract after the season, though he’s far from a lock to abandon his deal.
Returning to the open market – where the former Astro, Tiger and Diamondback joined the Red Sox on a five-year, $110MM contract back in February 2018 – would mean leaving a substantial amount of money on the table. However, while Martinez will still have another three years and $62.5MM left when this season concludes, he’s not ruling out another stab at free agency. Martinez said last month he plans to leave his future in the hands of famed agent Scott Boras.
Based on his production, Martinez has a case for more money than he stands to earn on his current deal. Martinez was one of the game’s greatest hitters in the handful of years preceding his Boston deal, and that hasn’t changed. Although Martinez’s numbers have markedly fallen off compared to where they were from 2017-18, that’s more a compliment to his output then than an indictment on what he has done this year. With 25 home runs in 479 plate appearances, Martinez is on pace for his third straight year with at least 30 HRs. His wRC+ (136) is tied with Anthony Rizzo and Josh Bell for 19th among qualified hitters, and his .408 expected weighted on-base average ranks quite a bit higher. Only fellow offensive luminaries Mike Trout, Cody Bellinger, Nelson Cruz, Christian Yelich, Anthony Rendon, Yordan Alvarez and Aaron Judge rank above Martinez in that department.
It’s fair to say Martinez remains an absolute force at the plate, then, and it would surely help his cause that he’d be a big fish in a fairly small free-agent pond. Aside from Rendon, a fellow Boras client and the lone pending free-agent position player who looks like a shoo-in for a $100MM-plus contract, Martinez would be the second-most appealing hitter available. Still, the soon-to-be 32-year-old and Boras might be leery of taking advantage of his opt-out. Free agency has been tough on even highly decorated 30-somethings in recent years, especially those who come with qualifying offers attached (just ask Dallas Keuchel and Craig Kimbrel).
Martinez didn’t receive a QO in his previous trip to free agency because it came after a midseason trade, but the Red Sox would no doubt saddle him with one during the upcoming winter. Plus, although he remains among the majors’ most formidable hitters, that’s essentially where all of Martinez’s on-field value comes from. Formerly a regular in the outfield, he’s easily on pace for his second straight season of fewer than 500 innings in the grass. That doesn’t mean Martinez’s offense won’t continue to make him immensely valuable going forward – former Red Sox DH David Ortiz and the aforementioned Cruz are two examples of offense-only players who’ve been tremendous even in the twilight of their careers. The lack of a real position still won’t do Martinez’s market any favors, though, especially considering there aren’t any near-term plans for the National League to implement the DH.
There’s no easy answer here for the Martinez-Boras tandem, who can either choose the bird-in-hand route or take a gamble on his bat leading him to even more cash than he’s due on his present pact. Without question, it’ll be one of the most interesting early offseason situations to watch. As of now, how do you expect it to play out?
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