J.D. Martinez’s top priority is on getting the Red Sox into the playoffs, though once this season’s business is complete, Martinez will have to decide whether or not to return to the Sox for 2022. The slugger tells WEEI.com’s Rob Bradford that he is “right in the middle” about whether he will opt out of the final season (and $19.375MM) on his contract, or if he’ll come back for a fifth year in Boston.
Martinez’s original five-year/$110MM pact from the 2017-18 offseason was somewhat unusually structured, giving both Martinez and the team multiple opportunities to opt out of the deal, with Boston’s concern being Martinez’s history of foot injuries. As it turned out, Martinez stayed relatively healthy, and delivered huge numbers in 2018-19 before tailing off badly in 2020. However, Martinez spoke at length about how the COVID-altered circumstances of the 2020 season impacted his ability to prepare and adjust for games, and his bat has largely bounced back in the somewhat more normalized environment of the 2021 campaign.
It’s a sign of how well Martinez has performed during his career that his .285/.349/.516 slash line and 29 homers over 612 plate appearances this season actually represents a step down from his 2014-19 prime, though Martinez is certainly still a dangerous bat. A below-average walk rate is the only real sign of decline for the 34-year-old, who is still making plenty of hard contact and hitting for plenty of power.
Martinez has already passed on opting out of his contract following each of the last two seasons. While last year’s decision was hardly a surprise given his subpar numbers, Martinez also expressed concern over how the free agent market would look for himself and for players as a whole in the wake of the pandemic season. Given how vocal Martinez was about his displeasure with his own past free agent experience, he might be more inclined to take the security of his 2022 salary and avoid the possibility of another unusual offseason, considering the rumblings of labor struggles between owners and players.
That said, the new Collective Bargaining Agreement could also represent an argument for Martinez to opt out. It has been widely assumed that the next CBA will extend the designated hitter to the National League, thus opening Martinez’s market up to 15 other teams. While Martinez isn’t a DH-only player, an NL team would surely prefer to have the DH available if signing Martinez to a multi-year contract. Of course, Martinez will have to make his opt-out call within five days of the end of the World Series — well before we’ll know if the universal DH will be a reality.
Looking at just the American League, teams like the Mariners, Tigers (Martinez’s former team), Indians, and perhaps even the White Sox, Blue Jays, or Royals could all make room for the veteran slugger in their 2022 lineups. A return to Boston also couldn’t be ruled out beyond just declining the opt-out clause, as Martinez and the Red Sox could potentially work out an extension or another year or two to keep Martinez from opting out.