At least based on what we hear from the outside, there is not a whole lot of positivity to take away from these negotiations between the league and players looking for a new CBA. With the owner-imposed lockout in place, MLB is at a standstill until this negotiation ends, and much of what we’ve been told about has been surrounding disagreements between the two sides. That said, there has been one fairly significant agreement made, with the two sides agreeing to implement the designated hitter in the National League, a move everyone has seen coming for a few years now at least.
For the Boston Red Sox, on the surface there’s not a whole lot that changes due to this revelation. Since the DH’s implementation in the American League, no team has better utilized the position, particularly over the last 20 years. Boston has really only had a pair of designated hitters over the last two decades, with David Ortiz obviously filling the position for the majority of that time and J.D. Martinez taking the mantle admirably since 2018. While most teams seem to be trending in a direction to use the DH slot in order to provide sort of half days off for some of their everyday players, the Red Sox have proven there is value in getting an elite bat into the lineup that otherwise might be closer to a net negative with their lack of defensive proficiency.
It’s not clear, however, that the team is going to continue doing that in the future, especially with Chaim Bloom in charge. While, in fairness, he has not mentioned anything specifically about this that I can remember, he does come from a Rays franchise that perhaps more than any other team has utilized their DH slot largely as a rotation of sorts. That does open up the question of what this spot in the Red Sox lineup will look like moving forward, and that comes up for as soon as 2022, despite having Martinez under contract for another year. With the NL adding the new lineup position, the veteran could feasibly be on the trade market, with a few different opportunities awaiting the Red Sox if they go down that path.
Although there are some teams like the New York Mets in the NL who have a couple of players who fit much better as a DH rather than being shoe-horned into the lineup as a defensive player, there are quite a few NL teams who could use a better bat to place into that lineup spot at least most of the time. That would be the basic logic behind potentially trading Martinez, looking for a contending roster that needs a short-term impact at this new position. The idea of trading Martinez is not a new one, of course, but this news just doubles the number of teams who could theoretically be in play for the veteran.
The key question with any discussion along these lines, as we know, is what the Red Sox would be able to get back for Martinez. While he is certainly a marquee name in this league, I’m not sure I’d count on any sort of monster package coming back. He is a DH, which puts a ceiling on the amount of value he can realistically provide in a season, and he is entering his age-34 season next year, not to mention the fact that the team who acquires him only would have him for one season before having to negotiate a new deal. Plus, while Martinez rebounded from a brutal 2020, he still was more good than great in 2021, finishing the year hitting .286/.349/.518 for a 128 wRC+. The latter figure is his worst non-2020 mark since 2013, before his breakout with the Detroit Tigers.
But if the Red Sox were able to find an acceptable deal, they would likely do so with another plan at the position in mind. On the free agent market, there are a few viable options who could come in and replace Martinez, starting most obviously with Kyle Schwarber. In fact, if this series of events were to come to fruition, my guess would be that it was in part a way to fit Schwarber on the roster. After acquiring him midway through last season, the former Cub and National’s impact on this lineup both from his own performance and his approach rubbing off on some teammates was undeniable. While his left-handedness is not ideal in what Boston has said they are looking for, his other attributed outweigh that, and he’d be a Martinez replacement coming in four years the latter’s junior.
He’s not the only option who could be out there as a new addition to take over the spot, either. Nick Castellanos wasn’t really connected to the Red Sox in any significant sense prior to the lockout, but following a Martinez trade he would, in theory, make a ton of sense. Like most other names in this discussion, Castellanos is a net negative with the glove but is a true middle-of-the-order impact bat. He’s also a right-handed with big pull power that would seem to fit perfectly with Fenway Park. The same could be said for veteran Nelson Cruz, though he’d be more of a short-term option, or Jorge Soler, who would be by far the cheapest signing of this group. But a Martinez trade would allow for any of these players to be brought in alongside someone like Seiya Suzuki to really transform this lineup and potentially make it a little bit younger as well. Of course, it has to be mentioned that all of these players’ markets will be increased as the NL teams will be looking here for DH help as well.
They could also trade Martinez with the idea of replacing him internally. This could once again be involving something of a rotation, taking some defensive pressure off of starts like Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, along with other position players who could get a day mostly off their feet while remaining in the lineup. They could also look at this as an opportunity to transition Devers full-time to the DH spot, though I’d be surprised if that move was made this offseason. Hell, the Red Sox could even look down the line a little bit and envision a situation where they’re trying to get all three of Devers, Bobby Dalbec, and Triston Casas into the lineup. Barring one of them learning left field, the only way to make that work is with a DH.
The point is the Red Sox could see this addition of the DH spot into National League lineups as an opportunity to get a little bit younger in the middle of their lineup and move on to whatever the next iteration of their DH spot would be. Personally, I’m not sure they’d get enough for Martinez to make it worth it, and I think he’s still too good of a hitter to just give away for marginal pieces just to make some other moves. That said, with Schwarber specifically and perhaps to a slightly lesser extent with some of the other scenarios, this might create a perfect storm with NL teams looking for a new DH in a short period of time after the lockout, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to seem Bloom and the rest of the front office use it as an opportunity to at least explore a number of different avenues.