With various injuries crippling some key players on both the pitching staff and in the lineup, there’s certainly been a lot of negativity surrounding the team. But, there have been many positives. One of those is the continued production of J.D. Martinez. Looking ahead to the off-season, the fate of their designated hitter (and occasional outfielder) J.D. Martinez is one of the biggest questions. That’s because the team's best hitter in 2019 can opt out of the final three years of his deal in each of the next three offseasons. If that happens, the Red Sox may have no choice but to say goodbye.
Due to massive financial commitments to Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi, there isn't going to be much money to go around. The Sox already have to consider arbitration raises to Betts and Bradley Jr, and Xander Bogaerts new (albeit, well deserved) pay raise. Even with Porcello's $21 million and other significant salaries like Moreland and Pearce coming off the books, there's still not much money to go around.
Because of these massive commitments, the new Red Sox committee of baseball operations has a big decision to make regarding the DH. Whether he opts out or not, JD Martinez has a $22 million Annual Average Value (AAV) salary to consider. So, let’s play General Manager and see what the Red Sox could do and the various scenarios that could play out.
Is J.D. Martinez Worth His Contract?
So far, absolutely. Through 592 Plate Appearances in 2019, here are J.D. Martinez’s numbers:
Actual: 308/.384/.577/.398 wOBA (top 5% of league), 35 HR, 31 2B
Statcast expected stats: .310 batting average, .582 slugging percentage,.410 expected wOBA (top 3% of league),.489 expected wOBA on contact (top 4% of league)
Defense: -6 DRS, -3 Outs Above Average (StatCast), 313 innings played
According to FanGraphs, J.D. Martinez’s 3.2 WAR in 2019 is worth $25.5 million on the open market. That’s at each “win above replacement” being worth about $8 million. So, this is under the assumption that a league average player could expect about $16 million a year on the open market. That’s a far cry from the $46.9 million JD was “worth” in 2018. Still, if the season ended today, JD will have “earned” $72.4 of his $110 million contract in just two out of five years. The season isn’t yet over, so he could easily improve those numbers.
This means that if the Red Sox just get one more 3 WAR season out of J.D., he’s essentially been worth his deal. That means that this signing was a great one for the Sox. Not only that, JD has become one of the team leaders.
Let’s take a look at his ZiPS projections for the next two years:
2020: .285/.356/.547, 32 HR, 3 WAR
2021: .281/.350/.524, 28 HR, 2.3 WAR
We can assume that 2022 will be below league-average. But, yes, the Red Sox would be fine if he doesn’t opt out. Right?
Scenario #1: JD Martinez Doesn’t Opt Out and Remains for 2019
The interesting thing about JD Martinez’s contract is that he has an opt-out clause he can activate not just after 2019, but also after 2020, and after 2021. Of course, there are some interesting names on the free agent market for this offseason. But none of them are anywhere near the hitter than Martinez has been.
Yes, Nelson Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion could be free agents. But the Twins will happily take back Cruz for his $12 million option and I can’t really see the Yankees turning down Edwin’s $20 million, although he’s no JD. The other best power hitters are Josh Donaldson and Anthony Rendon, but they still could resign with their current teams. There’s also Justin Smoak, who’s probably better than his 2019 numbers look.
So, there’s a good chance JD opts out. There are likely greener pastures, and the 2020 free agent class may only add Yasmani Grandal, Anthony Rizzo, and Mike Moustakas for impact hitters. But, let’s say he stays. With the core still in place, if a couple of young players step up and Sale, Price, and Eovaldi stay healthy, there’s a chance this team makes another championship run. That could entice JD to stay. The Red Sox would probably be fine with that.
Scenario #2: JD Martinez Opts Out in 2019
Since JD is going to turn 33 in August 2020, that means JD won’t necessarily be as attractive to other teams. Teams are usually looking to get younger, and if he opts out after 2020, even with a good season, JD may not beat the remaining $42 million on his deal at that point. But the 2020 class outside of a few hitters isn’t exactly crowded. JD could probably beat the $62.5 million he currently has left.
If the Sox opt out, it’s very likely that they simply hold onto that money, turning to Michael Chavis, Sam Travis, and Bobby Dalbec to replace both him and Mitch Moreland. Travis is showing signs of developing into a better than league-average hitter. Chavis was showing the same before he got hurt. Dalbec may not be quite ready, either.
Of course, the Red Sox could also try to get value out of someone like Justin Smoak, who probably won’t be highly sought after. He’d probably be available for $8 million, or even less, considering his poor results this year. However, he’s still been a league-average hitter, plus StatCast reveals that his expected wOBA is a whopping 41 points higher than his actual results. Smoak has just been terrifically unlucky with a .228 BABIP (batting average on balls in play) because he has the best walk rate of his career.
The Sox very likely can't replace JD, but they could get a lot of it back for not much money. If he does opt out, the Sox will likely just extend a qualifying offer and hope to get a draft pick. There are some in-house options and potential DH type bargains.
Scenario #3: Red Sox do a trade and sign with JD Martinez
This isn't a scenario I've heard mentioned but there is an interesting though I've had with a trade and sign. Currently, JD has very limited value because of his three opt out clauses. But if the Red Sox decided they wanted to deal from a position of strength, they may offer JD a deal where they guarantee the money if he accepts a trade elsewhere, likely with a bonus attached to it. I don't know that JD is going to want to leave that way but you cant deny JD has significant trade value. The return likely wouldn't be great but it would free up significant payroll room.
This is also a "sell high" move. Do I think it will actually happen? Probably not. Would I explore it? As things stand right now, probably not. JD is unlikely to be an albatross in 2020 or 2021 and even if he is in 2022, by then things will be a lot more flexible financially.
However, this is where things get interesting. The Red Sox do NOT want to lose their superstar player after the 2020 season,Mookie Betts. Obviously, Betts is far more valuable to the Sox. The idea then is if you can free up money to guarantee a Betts mega deal and perhaps lock in Rafael Devers, you can take the short term hit in your offense.
My Take on JD Martinez
Personally, I'd JD Martinez wants to stay I would keep him. His bat is going to be extremely hard to replace. I would simply keep him. If a trade and sign became an option I would explore it.
However, consider this. The Red Sox don't have a ton of dead money going forward. The Sox only owe Pablo Sandoval $5 million. Dustin Pedroia is only owed about $13 million and the chance of him playing in 2020 is non zero. Rusney Castillo is owed $14 million but his contract doesn't count toward the luxury tax payroll due to being in AAA.
So, JD Martinez, unless he simply stops hitting, isn't hurting anyone. He's also a team leader, as I said before and that's an intangible you can't really put a dollar value on. Of course, if he opts out, there isn't any point in resigning him - unless his gamble doesn't work out and you get him back on a one year deal or something. The Sox need to keep Betts. But keeping JD gives Betts not only added incentive to sign because you're committed to winning, but because his salary is probably not going to stop that.
Also, if JD opts out after 2020, the Red Sox are going to just throw that money at Betts anyway. Or, another top free agent to replace his production if Betts leaves for “greener” pastures. I love JDM, but he’s a DH, and unfortunately for Martinez, those aren’t all that hard to replace - unless you’re Edgar Martinez or David Ortiz. I think JDM could keep providing that level of production, but will the Sox pay a higher price than they already have? That’s highly doubtful.
What do you think the Red Sox should do with J.D. Martinez?