TAMPA – The Boston Red Sox made the deal they had to make. They got the slugger they absolutely had to have.
Boston was 27th in baseball in home runs last year. They miss Big Papi badly, even more than anticipated. And, compared to the Yankees, who enjoyed seeing the great Giancarlo Stanton’s first workout session here today and eagerly await the Stanton-Aaron Judge-Gary Sanchez triumvirate, they looked like they were going to war with a relative BB gun (no slight to their killer B’s Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley and Xander Bogaerts; they are all excellent ballplayers, but the lineup just didn’t have the kind of firepower to match the Yankees).
Boston needed a power bat. And it needed to change the story.
The story had been about how the Yankees are building baseball’s most dangerous lineup and how the Red Sox changed coaches (that actually was the story in Boston outlets in the morning, sadly enough). Now, after the new $110 million, opt-out-heavy deal with J.D. Martinez, it can be about how they got one of the very best sluggers in baseball.
Martinez doesn’t have the cachet or mystique of Stanton, but he is a beast in his own right. In fact, his .690 slugging percentage was not only better than the 59-homer-hitting Stanton last year, it was the best for anyone with 450 plate appearances since Barry Bonds used otherworldly talents and more to put up unreal numbers more than a decade ago.
Martinez has a nice opposite-field swing which suited Chase Field and the D-backs, as they watched homer after home splash into their iconic swimming pool. But the assumption has to be that Martinez will be a monster playing at the home of the even more legendary Green Monster.
Red Sox baseball president Dave Dombrowski gets credit here for sticking to his five-year limit, for reading the market correctly and mostly for landing Martinez, who instantly makes the Red Sox lineup look daunting. It appears some late concessions were made to finish off a $110 million deal, as Martinez will get two opt-outs, and both pretty early in the deal. One will come after two years, and the other after three. And Martinez’s AAV (average salary) in the first two years is a lofty $25 million. So that is quite hefty (it’s nearly $10 million more than Ortiz ever got paid in Boston, and that man brought the Sox three championships).
But Dombrowski read the market well, and it paid off. He sensed that his main competition was the Diamondbacks, who normally don’t outbid a team like Boston, which routinely has one of the three highest revenue streams in the game, along with the rival Yankees and Dodgers. And he sensed that the D-backs were already a bit strapped, thanks to the luxury buy of Zack Greinke a couple winters back for $206.5 million, a contract they couldn’t trade, at least not satisfactorily. In that one, Arizona had to beat out their rival, the Dodgers, so perhaps they just felt more urgency in that case.
Dombrowski took a chance here, as the backup plans weren’t exactly stellar. The one reported by FanRag Sports, that they might consider signing Logan Morrison, just wasn’t the same. Morrison had a big year last year, too, but not as big as Martinez’s, and he isn’t as consistent over his career. And the one reported by Bob Nightengale of USA Today, that they might send Bradley to the Indians for Edwin Encarnacion, seemed like a risk in that it weakens one of their greatest strengths: their amazing outfield defense, which might be the best in the game.
Anyway, the D-backs, as reported here a week ago, had tried some shorter deals with nice AAVs and opt-outs. They did what they thought they could, and they just came up short. No shame in that, and they are nothing if not efficient; they quickly moved on to agree on a two-year deal with Jarrod Dyson, who is nothing like Martinez (in fact, he’s the opposite). But he’s an outfielder who can play center and potentially replace A.J. Pollock, a very talented player who is seen as extremely likely to leave after the year. Again, the D-backs, with the sport’s lowest ticket prices, just can’t have too many nine-figure players, and with some room still being left for their franchise first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, whose contract expires after next year, there just isn’t a ton of room.
Boston, meanwhile, always has the money. And they will take over top honors as having baseball’s highest payroll following this signing – a distinction held by Dombrowski’s previous Tigers team at times last year. But that’s OK. They are trying to win, unlike too many others.
They have spent quite a bit over the years, bringing in big stars like David Price and Craig Kimbrel and Chris Sale (and even paying off the contract of Yoan Moncada, who went to the White Sox in the Sale deal). But they truly have an excellent team now.
The Red Sox have a team that can challenge the Astros, the Dodgers, the Cubs, and yes, the rival Yankees, for supremacy. They were missing only one thing, and that was that big bat. And they got exactly the right guy.