J.D. Martinez Is a $110M Steal and the Superstar the Red Sox Desperately Needed

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterFebruary 20, 2018

Arizona Diamondbacks' J.D. Martinez points upward after hitting a grand slam against the San Francisco Giants during the second inning of a baseball game, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2017, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)
Matt York/Associated Press

At long last, the Boston Red Sox have put a round peg in a round hole and strengthened their position in the American League power structure.

And at a more than reasonable price, to boot.

The newest member of the Red Sox is J.D. Martinez, who was last seen putting up a 1.066 OPS and hitting 45 home runs in only 119 games for the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks in 2017. He agreed to join the team on a five-year, $110 million contract on Monday, per Jon Morosi of MLB Network.

There are, of course, a few strings attached.

One is that Martinez's deal comes with multiple opt-out clauses. He can use the first after 2019, at which point he'll have earned $50 million. Or, he can make another $22 million in 2020 and then opt out, per Evan Drellich of NBC Sports Boston. 

There are also luxury-tax implications at play. By signing him for $22 million per year, the Red Sox are about to be $33.6 million over the $197 million tax threshold for 2018. That overage will be taxed, and it puts the Red Sox dangerously close to a $40 million overage and a corresponding draft-pick penalty.

Nonetheless, it's hard to view Martinez's agreement as anything other than a steal for Boston.

PHOENIX, AZ - OCTOBER 09:  JD Martinez #28 of the Arizona Diamondbacks follows through on a swing during game three of the National League Divisional Series against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chase Field on October 9, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by
Norm Hall/Getty Images

Way back in November, the word around the hot stove was that Martinez and agent Scott Boras were on the hunt for a $200 million contract. The Red Sox are getting him for roughly half that.

It's also worth pointing out that the Red Sox are guaranteeing Martinez $16 million less than what Yu Darvish got from the Chicago Cubs and $34 million less than what Eric Hosmer got from the San Diego Padres.

Just for fun, here are the three players' wins above replacement since 2014:

  • J.D. Martinez: 15.2
  • Yu Darvish: 9.7
  • Eric Hosmer: 9.5

OK, fine. This is a sneaky trick in some respects. Martinez is a 30-year-old who's played in only 239 games over the last two years, so there is a durability concern. He's also recently gone from a good defensive outfielder to a poor defensive outfielder.

But more than any other team, the Red Sox can downplay these red flags.

They can plug him into a designated-hitter hole that the club predictably struggled to fill following David Ortiz's retirement in 2016. That should help keep Martinez healthy and should thus maximize the potential of what matters here: his bat.

Although the 2017 Red Sox had the same record (93-69) as the 2016 Red Sox, the two clubs were polar opposites at the plate. The '16 club led MLB in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and runs. The '17 club was middle of the road or worse in all four categories.

Worse, it suffered the biggest home run loss of any team:

Team2016-2017 HR Difference
BOS-40
STL-29
DET-24
SEA-23
BAL-21

Per Baseball Reference.

Up until Monday, the Red Sox's answer to this problem had involved re-signing Mitch Moreland and Eduardo Nunez. Team owner John Henry didn't come off as convincing when he tried to defend this to the media.

"I think our approach last year was lacking offensively and we had issues that the players have already talked about," Henry said, per Ian Browne of MLB.com. "I didn't think we were nearly aggressive enough, and I think our approach was lacking for a good part of the season. I think we would have had significant power last year if we would have had a different approach. That's my opinion. It may not be true. I think we have a very good offense."

Now that Martinez is aboard, all this is water under the proverbial bridge.

His 2017 offensive masterpiece of a season that included 45 homers wasn't his first rodeo. He slugged 38 in 2015, with 23 and 22 in injury-shortened seasons in 2014 and 2016, respectively. Overall, he ranks second to Mike Trout in slugging percentage since 2014.

If there's a reason to be concerned about Martinez in Boston, it's that Fenway Park is a threat to tamp down his opposite-field power. He's hit more oppo homers than any other right-handed batter since 2014, yet many would have died at the warning track in Boston.

But in the larger scheme of Martinez's power, this is a mere nitpick. His aim is to get the ball in the air, period, and his air balls tend to keep going once they're hit. Since 2015, only five hitters have his average fly-ball exit velocity of 95.9 mph beat.

It should be safe to pencil Martinez in for around 40 homers in 2018. That will take a lot of pressure off Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. to replace the power that was lost when Ortiz retired.

Elsewhere, Boston's lineup features two high-upside youngsters (Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers), a potentially dangerous first-base platoon (Moreland and Hanley Ramirez) and, if healthy, one steady ol' standby (Dustin Pedroia).

Add that all up, and you get a lineup with good depth and talents of all sorts. FanGraphs' latest projections state that it can score 5.27 runs per game, which places second in between the Houston Astros and New York Yankees. They also have the Red Sox winning 95 games, second only to the Astros in the AL.

A bit too optimistic? Probably. Martinez will only help so much if holdover members of Boston's 2016 lineup don't shape up. The team also has questions on the mound, such as the health of David Price and the matter of what, exactly, Rick Porcello is supposed to be.

But completely unrealistic? Not at all. The Red Sox may need much to go right, but they're going to be able to match up with anyone if things do.

It was hard to make that case before Martinez agreed to terms. Now that he has, the Red Sox can be on their way.

   

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference, FanGraphs and Baseball Savant. Contract data courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

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