J.D. Martinez is still a free agent in the middle of February. Since the World Series ended, there was plenty of excitement about a class of free agents that included Martinez, Yu Darvish, Jake Arrieta, and Eric Hosmer. While it lacked the star power of the next class (which includes Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and possibly Clayton Kershaw), it was at the least a very interesting class with some difference-makers at the top.
Of that group, only Yu Darvish has signed and it took him until just this week to do so. Jake Arrieta has a few teams interested, primarily on shorter term deals, and Eric Hosmer is reportedly debating between seven-year offers from the Padres and Royals. J.D. Martinez, seemingly, has drawn the short straw. If reports are accurate, he has two formal offers on the table. One from the Diamondbacks, and one from the Red Sox.
If you’ve been following the Martinez saga (and let’s be honest, there’s no way you haven’t. This is precisely the 853rd article written about J.D. Martinez since the off-season began), then you probably know that it’s a far cry from the $200 million contract he was reported to have been seeking and even the six year, $150 million contract that MLBTR predicted he would eventually sign.
The latest news, that the offer to Martinez is closer to being worth $100 million than $125 million, got me wondering where one should really draw the line with Martinez. How much is he worth, how much will he get, and if he signs elsewhere, do they really have a suitable plan B?
Any argument about worth has to start with how a player is valued. Typically, bats like Martinez are valued based on offensive skill. Albert Pujols, Giancarlo Stanton, et al, represent big sluggers who have been given big contracts, though Stanton’s did not come on the open market. There are cases where big bats don’t get as much as expected (see: Edwin Encarnacion), and then there are big bats who get basically nothing, despite being big bats (Chris Carter).
The distinction here is that it isn’t just how many home runs a player hits, nor is it their power potential, but rather their entire body of work. How they can hit, field, throw, run, and what else they can bring to the table besides their ability to hit a home run every 3 or 4 games.
J.D. Martinez, while a fantastic bat, does not have much helping him with regards to his ability to run or field, very similar to Edwin Encarnacion. Defensive metrics generally see Martinez as among the worst in the game with the glove.
Looking at defense, I believe in only large samples of work, so I took every outfielder’s body of work over the past four seasons (2014-17) and compared from there. You can play around with the different numbers, but one trend came about: Martinez typically is one of the bottom 10 qualified MLB OF in just about every defensive category of worth. If J.D. Martinez were to come to Boston, he would almost exclusively play DH, only rarely playing the field when the Killer B’s need a break, and Bryce Brentz (who I am now including in the Killer B’s) is not available (although there’s a chance if Martinez signs, Brentz will be a roster casualty).
His running ability also leaves a lot to be desired. By UBR, Martinez ranks as the 25th worst player of the last four years. Names near Martinez’s on that list include Encarnacion, Mike Napoli, and fellow free agent Mike Moustakas. Now, I love Mike Napoli, and I’m also fond of Encarnacion, but these are not names you want to be associated with on the base paths. Again, there are other stats you can peruse on the same page, if you want more evidence.
For those two big flaws, however, Martinez’s bat is very much legitimate, and I don’t think you need much explanation of that. I dove into offensive statistics to determine just what makes him so special. Not satisfied with just looking at his accomplishments, I wanted to see what bats were similar to his own to get a better measure for what exactly he is worth. All stats are from the last four years.
What you see is a rather messy spreadsheet. Stats highlighted in yellow are ones I consider “close” to J.D. Martinez’s numbers. Stats that were underlined were the closest comparison of players in the top 20 in slugging percentage. To the left, next to the player names, is another highlighted section indicating how many stats they had highlighted, as well as the number of times they were the closest match (in blue).
It’s a rather simplistic take that doesn’t truly grasp what makes J.D. Martinez a special hitter. To do that, you’d have to compare all these players batted ball profiles, their swing rates, and other such stats. So of course, I did just that (link to custom table).
From the three above charts, you can grasp your own conclusions. The ones I came away with were as follows:
- J.D. Martinez is a really good hitter.
- His counting stats indicate he is most like Giancarlo Stanton, but he’s also similar to Jose Abreu and Edwin Encarnacion to a degree (names Boston has been tied to this off-season).
- His batted ball profiles are close-ish to Mike Trout and Khris Davis! While Khris Davis is not great at generating contact all the time, when he hits it, it does go far. So this is rather encouraging.
- His plate discipline leaves a little to be desired, as he is very much a free swinger, and compares most favorably to Nelson Cruz.
- The names across the three lists he has the most overall similarities with appears to be Khris Davis and Nelson Cruz, although Giancarlo Stanton is up there as well.
As well and good as that is, we haven’t arrived at the answer to the question “What is J.D. Martinez worth?”
If he is indeed, most similar to those players, his contract would be somewhere north of Nelson Cruz’s (older at time of signing), and somewhere south of Giancarlo Stanton’s (younger at time of extension, not open market). My best, firm guess, given the information on the table, and the current trends on WAR valuation, would be somewhere between 24.5 and 27.5 million dollars annually, dependent on the length of the contract. 24.5 if you believe he would only be worth 3 fWAR per year, adjust if you believe he’d be worth more or less. He was worth 3.8 fWAR last year, and we will treat him as if he is a 3.3 fWAR player the next two seasons, a 3.0 fWAR in his third, and a 2.5, 2.3 in his fourth and fifth seasons respectively. There is no basis on this projection, beyond that of typical aging trends, and the typical value of a DH.
Perhaps I am being generous, but I would guess that over five years, Martinez would put up a total of 14.4 fWAR over the next five seasons (he has been worth 14.6 over the last four, so we account for a potential fair decline, in addition to the loss of value from being a full-time DH). If WAR is valuated at 11.1 million dollars per WAR as the above Fangraphs article forecasts, he would be worth 159.8 million dollars (which I think we can all agree is far too much, that would be 32 million dollars annually). I think, instead, the best comparison would be to look at a mix of the Edwin Encarnacion signing from last off-season, and the Giancarlo Stanton extension from 2014.
The Stanton contract was 13/325, signed after the end of the 2014 season. He had just turned 25, and the contract takes him through his age 38 season. The contract’s average annual value comes out to 25 million dollars.
Encarnacion’s, to compare, was only 3/60, with a 20 million dollar club option at the end. The contract takes him through his age 36 season if the option is declined, age 37 if the option is exercised.
J.D. Martinez, is 30, a mid-point between the two ages. While he is not going to get less than 20 million a year, he is unlikely to eclipse Stanton’s AAV, despite the fact Stanton’s contract did not happen on the open market. Encarnacion, who was coming off a 3.9 fWAR season himself, may be the best comparison we have, given he signed for less than expected, and was a prolific hitter the Red Sox were interested in. Encarnacion put up 2.5 fWAR in his first season in Cleveland. If he continues to do so the next two seasons, the Indians will have paid 60 million dollars for 7.5 fWAR, a rough valuation of 8 million dollars per fWAR. I would propose given the free agent freeze, that 8 million dollars per fWAR is more likely a valuation than the 11.1 million proposed by Fangraphs last season.
Factoring that in, my final guess at Martinez’s “value” (roughly 8 million per fWAR) is set at 115.2 million dollars, over 5 years, adjust if you believe he will be worth a different amount than 14.4 fWAR.
It’s all well and good to say J.D. Martinez is “worth” 115.2 million dollars on the current market, but that’s not entirely reality. Value is dependent on exactly what teams are willing to pay you. It’s very possible Martinez is worth closer to the 160 million mentioned above. It’s also possible he’s actually worth more. But if Boston and Arizona do not want to pay him that much money, there are limited options for him to pursue to acquire his true worth.
I’m of the belief that Martinez will be signing in the next week or two, and that the contract is going to be seriously underwhelming, making the side that misses out on him wish they upped their offer.
After all, he’s only a high-impact bat with the possibility to make either club a legitimate World Series contender. What’s a little extra change to make that dream all the more assured?