We are now into Day Three of the Winter Meetings and are still waiting for the Red Sox to make their first move of the offseason. Of course, the market for big bats has still been extremely slow-moving throughout the league, so this is not just a Red Sox thing. We did get a little bit of a hint towards where Boston is leaning at this point, however. By all accounts, it seems as if their top target right now is going to be J.D. Martinez.
Source says Red Sox 90-10 in their pursuit of J.D. Martinez vs. other(s). Makes sense: he’s the best free agent bat available in terms of production, no qualifying offer.— Evan Drellich (@EvanDrellich) December 12, 2017
To be clear, this is not saying that there is a 90 percent chance of Boston signing him, but rather that 90 percent of the team’s focus is on Martinez. According to Jon Heyman, the team met with the free agent in Orlando Tuesday night.
This has always made the most sense for the Red Sox. Martinez is the best hitter available in free agency, and because he was traded midseason in 2017 he was not extended a qualifying offer. In other words, the Red Sox wouldn’t have to give up a draft pick to sign him. Martinez only costs money, and that’s Boston’s sweet spot. That being said, this by no means is a perfect move. Such a thing doesn’t exist this winter, and any move would have its detractions. Fans have plenty of issues with Martinez, and with it looking more and more like he’s Dave Dombrowski’s top target, let’s take a closer look at these issues and try to talk our way through them.
The first flaw for Martinez I’d like to discuss is his defense. While the former Astro, Tiger and Diamondback has been one of the game’s best hitters over the last few seasons, his defense leaves something to be desired to say the least. Many of the people that are against the idea of signing Martinez mention this, and it’s totally fair. However, with this Red Sox roster, that is not a major concern. For one thing, most days should involve Martinez handling DH duties for the team. This is contingent on Ramirez being able to handle first base on an everyday basis, but that is the plan right now. Even if Martinez does have to play the field, half of the games will be at Fenway Park. Playing the Monster isn’t a cakewalk, but range is not much of a concern in Boston’s left field and we’ve seen poor defenders (hello, Manny) put forth passable experiences at that position. It’ll be easier to live with considering there will always be an above-average-to-elite defender next to him in center field. Numbers like WAR may not like Martinez, but the Red Sox in my eyes don’t need that kind of all-around value. They are in as good a position as any team in baseball to hide Martinez’ defensive deficiencies.
Beyond that, there is some concern about signing a (presumably) large deal with a player who has had the injury troubles of Martinez. Granted, he is not someone who has missed seasons at a time at any point in recent memory, but he’s missed a few chunks of time. This is a narrative that feels as if it’s been overblown. Looking at his four years since bursting onto the MLB scene in 2014, Martinez does only have one year in which he played at least 125 games. That deserves a closer look, though. The slugger started that 2014 season in the minors, and that kept his games played total down rather than an injury. Two years later, he missed 40 games due to an elbow injury caused by crashing into a wall. Certainly a concerning injury at the time, but not one that indicates someone ready to break down. The one to worry about came last year when he missed the first six weeks or so of the season with a foot injury. That’s something to keep an eye on, but he was able to come back after that and put forth an absurd season at the plate. There’s always some injury concern for someone of his age, but Martinez hasn’t shown enough to be thought of as truly injury-prone.
Speaking of which, age is another one of the big concerns for Martinez. This coming year will be his age-30 season, and we all know how much success the Red Sox have had by signing players in their 30’s. Unfortunately, there’s not much the Red Sox can do here. There aren’t a bevy of young free agents available because of MLB’s CBA (which should be changed next time, but that’s a discussion for another day), and the one top free agent on the relatively young end is Eric Hosmer. Most of us agree with that being a mistake waiting to happen. The last time the Red Sox signed someone on the younger end was Pablo Sandoval. That...uh...well that one didn’t work out. Martinez, meanwhile, has shown no signs of slowing down and as a slugger who should be able to spend the next few years as a DH, the aging process isn’t something I’m any more concerned about with him than I would be with many others.
All of this brings us to the primary concern for anyone who is on the fence about signing Martinez: The potential contract. Since he is the best free agent on the market this winter, there is understandably going to be plenty of demand. If the Red Sox want him, they will have to pay. It’s hard to say exactly how much he’ll get since no one else on the market has signed. The pitching market has seemed a little more expensive than expected, but there’s no guarantee that will carry over to the hitters. Either way, he’ll cost five or six years and probably between $25 and $30 million per season. That is a lot of money. On a $/WAR basis, Martinez probably won’t be worth it. That is how the top-end of the free agent market works. If the Red Sox want the biggest bat possible in the middle of their lineup, it’ll cost a deal that will look bad for the last year or two.
Personally, I can live with that as long as Martinez hits for the first four or five years of the deal. Nothing would indicate to me that Martinez is getting ready to slow down now. With Boston in the midst of an ever-shrinking window that includes multiple All-Star-level pitchers in their prime, getting the most out of each season right now is the priority. This team can work around a year or two of Martinez being too expensive at the end as long as they are confident in the first four or five years. I am confident in Martinez being the piece that will most improve Boston’s lineup and am more than willing to look past some of his flaws in favor of his major skill: Mashing.