It only took the entire offseason, but the Boston Red Sox were finally able to come to terms with J.D. Martinez. The outfielder/DH and Scott Boras client inked a five-year, $110 million deal with a two-year and a three-year opt-out built in. No owner has bothered to spend big, and Boras was able to extract added value for both Martinez and Eric Hosmer by building in the opt-outs. I’m not settled on whether the front-loaded structure of both deals is an advantage to the players, but all in all, it could be a worse deal.
We all know what the Red Sox needed: They needed power. The team was the worst power outfit among all playoff contenders, and it wasn’t close. Hanley Ramirez and Mitch Moreland could be upgraded upon, and with Martinez primed to DH and spell Andrew Benintendi and Mookie Betts in the outfield, those two can be platooned at first base and hide their weaknesses against same-handed pitching. (One prays that Sox president Dave Dombrowski won’t do something foolish like trade Jackie Bradley, Jr.)
Martinez is a premium power bat. He has been for the last four years. Since 2014, only three players have posted a higher wRC+ than him. Only nine players have hit more home runs. Last year’s .418 xwOBA was the fifth-highest contact quality score of any hitter in baseball. He has steadily improved his walk rate to the point where he draws enough free passes to augment the doubles and dingers and offset the strikeouts. The power-and-patience profile finally completed itself last year. Martinez packs a wallop, and even though he is an iron glove and a leaden runner, his prodigious skills at the plate make him pretty darn terrific for someone who is at best two-dimensional. Martinez managed to accrue four wins of value through his bat alone last year, and hitting only 489 times to boot.
There are caveats to a player like Martinez, as there always are. He came out of nowhere in 2014 by changing his swing plane and adding loft, but due to his lack of athleticism and skill anywhere but the plate, he needs the power to stay in place in order to make a difference to a team. That’s why he is moving to the DH slot on the Red Sox. Furthermore, he’s entering his age-30 season. Time isn’t really on Martinez’s side, which is why a contract length of seven years–and six years, for that matter–was always going to be an unrealistic ask. An offensive regression, plus age, plus no value added with the legs or glove, make Martinez a two-win player this year, according to Steamer and PECOTA.
That’s not a bad thing at all! The value of a designated hitter has changed considerably over the years. Players are more athletic than ever, and with big bats sticking at shortstop and center field, one doesn’t demand the same amount of offensive production from the DH slot. An above-average DH is perfectly acceptable for many AL teams. The Red Sox likely have the best DH in the whole league besides Nelson Cruz, which is just gravy.
If Martinez can beat his projections and look more like a three-win hitter this year, maybe he will keep his ceiling high enough for 2019, and then he can hit the market again to cash in even bigger. One hopes that can happen.
The Red Sox should care about right now, however, and they just added 30 home runs to their lineup. Martinez should eat the Green Monster for breakfast. The Yankees are the most elite power lineup among all playoff contenders, and by some estimations the best team in the division. The Sox had to get Martinez. They dragged it out for too long. They are looking at a short-term investment if Martinez is excellent, but that short-term investment will keep them staring down the Yankees for the next two or three seasons. Too few divisions are going to be competitive in 2018; naturally, the AL East climbs to the top of the heap.
Sox fans have Martinez to thank for that.