The Mets and Angels are “eyeing” J.D. Martinez, reports Jon Heyman of The New York Post. Heyman had previously floated both clubs as speculative fits for Martinez but this report seems to point to something with a bit more backing.
Martinez, now 36, was also a free agent last winter. He eventually signed with the Dodgers for one year and $10MM, though he later suggested he could have found more money if he held out a bit longer. “This was an offer that came up seeing if it was something I was interested in doing,” Martinez said in March to Rob Bradford of WEEI. “Obviously, it was a little bit of a pay cut, but if I held up maybe I could have gotten more. We were confident about that. But at the same time I wanted a team that was going to be in October, be in the swing of things all year and give me a chance to win.”
It also allowed him to reunite with Robert Van Scoyoc, the Dodgers hitting coach who previously made Martinez into a premium major league hitter. Joining the Dodgers and reuniting with Van Scoyoc went very well, as Martinez ended up having a strong season. He hit 33 home runs and slashed .271/.321/.572 for a wRC+ of 135, with both that home run tally and the wRC+ figure his personal best since 2019.
Despite all of that, a reunion with the Dodgers is not in the cards. The club didn’t issue him a qualifying offer because they wanted to keep their designated hitter slot open for a pursuit of Shohei Ohtani. Now that they have successfully added Ohtani to the roster, there’s no real way to fit Martinez into their plans. He’s capable of playing the outfield on occasion but logged just 12 innings there this year and none at all in 2022.
Martinez will thus be looking for a club that can accommodate a full-time DH. The Blue Jays and Diamondbacks are two clubs that are open to such an addition and both have been connected to Martinez in rumors, but the Angels and Mets are also viable landing spots.
For the Halos, they have been using their DH slot on Ohtani in recent years. Now that he’s heading to the Dodgers, that spot is open for someone new. They will be facing the challenge of trying to build a competitive team without Ohtani, something they weren’t able to do with him. Martinez is one of the few available free agents that can come close to making up for Ohtani’s lost offensive production.
Though there are reasons why he may not be a perfect fit. Having Ohtani locked into the DH spot in recent years has prevented the club from using that role to give other players a breather. They have several players on the roster with injury concerns, such as Anthony Rendon, Mike Trout and Taylor Ward, who could perhaps benefit from more semi rest days. The Angels would have to weigh the value of adding Martinez to the lineup against that loss of flexibility. On top of that, the current squad skews right-handed. Luis Rengifo is a switch-hitter and then Mickey Moniak and Nolan Schanuel are lefties, but the other projected regulars are all righties.
If they did decide to make a play for him, they should have plenty of room in the budget. Their competitive balance tax figure is currently at $168MM for next year, per Roster Resource. That puts them almost $70MM below the lowest tax threshold of $237MM. MLBTR predicted Martinez for a contract of $40MM over two years, an average annual value of $20MM. The Angels also have some work to do in addressing their pitching staff but there’s space for a Martinez deal if they want to do it.
For the Mets, their regular DH this year was Daniel Vogelbach, though he was non-tendered after a somewhat middling campaign. That leaves their best internal option for the DH spot as DJ Stewart, who shouldn’t stand in the way of someone like Martinez. He finished 2023 on a heater, hitting 11 home runs in 58 games after having his contract selected in July. However, he has been inconsistent in his career, having hit .213/.327/.400 prior to 2023 for a wRC+ of 99. He can play the outfield but is considered a poor defender. He had to settle for a minor league deal last winter, though his hot finish to 2023 led the Mets to tender him a $1.38MM contract for 2024. If Martinez were to be brought aboard, Stewart could be nudged into a part-time role as a platoon guy/pinch-hitter.
Since Martinez will be limited to a short-term deal on account of his age, that could fit with the Mets and their current approach. They are treating 2024 as a sort of transition year, with the aim of having a greater chance at contending in 2025 and beyond. That doesn’t mean they are overly concerned about the budget, however. Their CBT figure is currently pegged at $298MM by Roster Resource, already above the fourth tax line of $297MM. They took on money in the Adrian Houser/Tyrone Taylor deal and have given modest guarantees on one-year deals to Luis Severino, Joey Wendle, Jorge López, Austin Adams and Michael Tonkin.
As a third-time payor that is over the final CBT tier, any additional spending from the Mets would come with a massive 110% tax. But the tax bill for the year isn’t calculated until the end of the season. If they end up out of contention again, they may end up selling off pieces prior to the 2024 deadline. Pete Alonso, José Quintana and Severino are impending free agents making eight figures next year, and Martinez could potentially be on that list as well.
The Mets have also shown a willingness to eat money in deadline deals in order to improve the prospect return, doing so in both the Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander trades a few months back. If the club decides Martinez is a good fit for the roster and could perhaps be a nice trade chip by the summer, they would likely fork over the money to get him signed.
Whether that’s something Martinez would be interested in is a different matter. As quoted up top, he chose the Dodgers in part for the chance to be playing in October. Both the Mets and Angels are less clear-cut contenders right now than the Dodgers were a year ago. On the other hand, the Diamondbacks are coming off a World Series appearance while the Jays have made the postseason in three of the past four seasons, giving those clubs stronger cases to pitch to Martinez in terms of competitive chances. Though it’s unknown what kind of financial arrangements each club is willing to consider, which will undoubtedly be a factor in his decision making as well.