In the end, it just made too much sense.
The Boston Red Sox desperately needed a boost in power after hitting an American League-low 168 home runs in 2017. The club received that necessary jolt Monday by reportedly agreeing to a five-year contract with free agent slugger J.D. Martinez, who launched 45 homers last season in 119 games split between the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks.
On the surface, Martinez gives the Red Sox exactly what they coveted: Right-handed pop and a middle-of-the-order presence they’ve lacked since David Ortiz’s retirement. Opting to address their biggest shortcoming via free agency — landing arguably the best position player available — ensured the Red Sox didn’t need to relinquish any assets, an important development given the number of high-end prospects Boston traded in recent years to acquire other impact players like Chris Sale and Craig Kimbrel.
(Worth noting: Because Martinez was traded in the middle of last season, he was not eligible to receive a qualifying offer and the Red Sox thus don’t need to surrender a draft pick to sign him.)
Boston ranked 10th in the majors in runs in 2017 despite its season-long power outage, but there’s been a league-wide emphasis on hitting home runs, leaving the Red Sox at a disadvantage, especially with the New York Yankees hitting an MLB-high 241 home runs and adding home run king Giancarlo Stanton to their lineup in a blockbuster trade with the Miami Marlins earlier this offseason.
The Red Sox’s offensive philosophy likely is going to change in 2018 with a new manager, Alex Cora, and a new hitting coach, Tim Hyers, in place, perhaps leading to an uptick in production from Boston’s internal options. But the Red Sox needed to make a splash to keep up in the American League East arms race, and signing Martinez is an even bigger offseason victory for Boston when you consider the team-friendly nature of his reported deal.
Admittedly, a $110 million contract over five years is no small peanuts, especially with there seemingly being a limited market for the player’s services. Neither is $50 million over two years or $72 million over three years. There’s obviously inherent risk to such an investment, as the Red Sox know all too well after some of their recent free agent signings, including Pablo Sandoval (five years, $95 million) and, further back, Carl Crawford (seven years, $142 million).
But those figures pale in comparison to the $200 million or so in guarantees Martinez reportedly was seeking at the beginning of the offseason. And the opt-outs give Martinez an extra incentive to perform well over the next two to three years so he potentially can hit the open market and cash in again following the 2019 or 2020 season, at which point he’ll be 32 or 33 years old.
In other words, if, say, Martinez rakes over the next two years, which the Red Sox undoubtedly are banking on, then the organization won’t have much to complain about. They will have received two years of top-notch production for $25 million annually and can explore at that point whether to re-sign Martinez if he opts out. And Martinez won’t have much to complain about, because he’ll be positioned for another hefty payday, perhaps at a time when his free agent market will be more robust than it was this winter.
Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski remained patient this offseason, refusing to blink in what seemed like a staring contest between him and Martinez’s agent, Scott Boras. And that approach worked in Boston’s favor, as the Red Sox didn’t bid against themselves and their offense just got a whole lot better at a very reasonable price.