J.D. Martinez made his decision Monday, choosing to remain with the Red Sox instead of opting out of his contract and becoming a free agent. That simple call has major implications on both the franchise and the player. They are:
• Martinez essentially signed a 1-year, $23.75 million contract.
• Martinez will earn $23.75 million in 2020 and have another opt-out clause after the season, so he’s essentially signing a 1-year deal. The Red Sox did not make any adjustments to the deal to sway Martinez’ decision, according to a source, so his contract remains the same moving forward.
• Martinez will earn $23.75 million in 2020 and $19.375 million in both 2021 and 2022. He has the ability to opt out after each of the next two seasons and the deal does include some specific language about his option becoming a mutual option if his Lisfranc foot injury pops up. That injury has not been a concern in his first two years with the Red Sox.
The Red Sox are facing a legitimate salary crunch.
Boston’s goal to get under the $208 million competitive balance tax threshold just became much tougher. Martinez’ $23.75 million salary counts for that amount against the CBT tax, taking up nearly 11.5% of their cap room.
Martinez’ deal brings the Red Sox’ payroll to $135.5 million in guaranteed contracts for seven players (Martinez, David Price, Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, Nathan Eovaldi, Dustin Pedroia and Christian Vazquez). Arbitration raises for 14 more players (including Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Eduardo Rodriguez) and some operating costs will account for another $80-85 million, putting the Sox around the $220 million mark in estimated payroll.
To slash payroll, the Sox could look to trade Betts or Martinez or try to offload a starting pitcher (Price? Eovaldi?) in a salary relief deal. Boston could also look to non-tender Bradley Jr. or get creative by manipulating the back end of its roster. Whichever way new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom decides to go, one thing is certain: Change is coming.
• Martinez and Mookie Betts are both trade candidates.
Bloom will likely entertain offers to both Martinez and Betts, who are Boston’s most attractive expensive trade pieces. As team president/CEO Sam Kennedy said at the end of the season, it’s “challenging and difficult” to envision both Martinez and Betts on their 2020 roster, meaning the chance of one being traded is high.
Betts, who is projected to earn $27.7 million in 2020, would have a robust market of contenders looking to add one of the best all-around players in baseball for a year before free agency. If the Sox receive no clear indication that they have a good chance of signing Betts to a long-term extension, they’ll likely shop the reigning American League MVP aggressively.
A Martinez trade can’t be ruled out, but it is much more tricky. Martinez’s market is limited to American League teams, meaning there are only about 14 possible destinations for him. Non-contenders and teams who have set designated hitters won’t be involved, suppressing his market even further. And lastly, Martinez has a three-team no-trade clause he can update later this month, according to a source, meaning he’s likely to give himself the ability to block trades, thus further complicating the potential for a deal.
Betts is much more likely to be traded than Martinez if one of them is dealt. But again, Bloom’s creativity could allow the Red Sox to keep both.
• The Red Sox kept one of the best players in baseball on their roster.
It’s a bit unfortunate Martinez’s decision to opt out has been so closely linked to a Betts trade, because people are beginning to forget how valuable Martinez has been over the last two years. Yes, he is limited defensively and won’t impact the game on the base paths, but Martinez is still one of the very best hitters in baseball and has a clubhouse presence.
In 296 games over the last two years, Martinez has hit .317/.392/.593 with a .985 OPS. He has been an All-Star in both seasons, won a World Series and helped countless teammates as a quasi-coach, obsessed with swings and improving them.
A drop in production is possible for Martinez, who turns 33 next season and dealt with a nagging back injury at times in 2019. But his obsessive process suggests he’ll be able to be a productive player for at least a few more years.