As the Red Sox continue to flounder through the month of July, there are increasing levels of speculation that Boston could sell off some short-term veterans — even if they continue to opportunistically look to add longer-term pieces who’ll help in 2023 and beyond. To that end, ESPN’s Buster Olney said on today’s Baseball Tonight podcast that designated hitter J.D. Martinez “is out in the trade market.” Boston was recently swept by the division-rival Blue Jays, dropping them to 17 games back in the AL East and three back in the Wild Card chase.
The 34-year-old Martinez (35 next month) would immediately become one of the best bets on the market if the Sox indeed do intend to trade him within the next week. Fresh off his fifth career All-Star appearance, Martinez remains a standout bat, hitting .302/.368/.481 with nine homers on the season. He may not be the 45-homer threat he was at his 2017-18 peak, but Martinez’s 8.7% walk rate and 23.6% strikeout rate are both right in line with his career levels, and he’s been 36% better than league-average at the plate by measure of wRC+.
Martinez is in the final season of a frontloaded five-year, $110MM contract that calls for a $19.375MM salary for the current season. He’s still owed about $7.55MM of that salary between now and season’s end, as of this writing, but for a hitter of his caliber it’s a generally reasonable rate of pay.
The extent to which the Red Sox are attempting to move Martinez isn’t yet known. Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom typically takes an open-minded approach to the trade deadline and offseason alike, so it’s certainly feasible that he’s simply entertaining offers from other clubs. At the same time, if the Sox have determined that they don’t want to make a qualifying offer to Martinez at what will likely be a comparable rate to his current salary, they could more aggressively contact other clubs and try to initiate negotiations themselves.
Making Martinez available would obviously bring about further questions regarding the Sox’ roster. If they’re willing to move Martinez, it stands to reason that other clubs would inquire about the team’s other slate of pending free agents, at the very least. Nathan Eovaldi would quickly become the top name on the rental market for starting pitchers, and the Sox also have catcher Christian Vazquez, starters Michael Wacha and Rich Hill, utilityman Enrique Hernandez and reliever Matt Strahm set to reach free agency this winter.
Wacha, Hill, Strahm and Hernandez are all on the injured list at the moment, but all four are progressing toward returns (Twitter link via MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo). Hill is slated for a rehab assignment beginning tomorrow, while Wacha recently threw a simulated game. Strahm is only on the IL due to a wrist contusion (the All-Star break likely contributed to the factor to place him on the IL at all). Hernandez will be swinging a bat by the end of the week.
Of course, those players may not be considered quite as “easy” to replace as Martinez. While there’s no Martinez-level bat readily available to take his place, the Sox do have top prospect Triston Casas in Triple-A. Bobby Dalbec is playing third base right now with Rafael Devers on the injured list but could get a look at DH — or the Sox could simply use the designated hitter slot as a means of rotation their regulars and keeping them fresh down the stretch.
While a brief rental of a designated hitter might not generally be expected to produce a significant return, it at least bears mentioning that the Twins were able to pry minor league right-handers Joe Ryan and Drew Strotman from the Rays in last summer’s Nelson Cruz trade. Ryan, then an upper-level starter who’d recently pitched for Team USA in the Olympics, quickly found his way to the big leagues and has been Minnesota’s best starter since last September’s debut. That’ll likely be seen as the gold standard for rental trades of this nature for some time, however, and it’s not necessarily reasonable to expect the Red Sox — or any team — to pull off a return of that quality in exchange for a rental bat.
Obviously any talk of the Red Sox trading rental players will bring about speculation regarding shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who can and almost certainly will opt out of the final three years and $60MM remaining on his contract at season’s end. Bogaerts, however, has full no-trade protection under that contract. Paired with the opt-out provision on the deal, that makes a trade involving him a difficult (albeit not impossible) one to envision. ESPN’s Jeff Passan noted this morning that other teams expect Bogaerts to remain put even if Boston sells off other short-term pieces.