By Brian Lombardo
BU News Service
It’s official. J.D. Martinez is now a member of the Boston Red Sox.
The signing has seemed like the worst kept secret in baseball this offseason. Since the moment Martinez hit the free agent market, Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox have been interested.
Martinez fills a few roles that the roster has needed since the departure of David Ortiz in 2016. He is a power bat who produced 45 home runs in 2017 for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Now, with 81 games at Fenway Park on tap, that number could go up. Martinez bats right-handed, and although he is a solid opposite-field hitter, the ability to play off the 37.2-foot-tall Green Monster that sits just 310-feet away from home plate in left field opens a lot of opportunities for improved slugging numbers.
But it isn’t all good news for Martinez and the Red Sox. The deal is for five years and holds an average annual value of $22 million per season. It is front-loaded, meaning Martinez will received $50 million in the first two seasons. The deal offers three separate opt-out opportunities for Martinez, coming after the second, third and fourth seasons on the deal.
The contract also took a few extra days to finalize over some medical issues. Major League sources have said it’s just the Red Sox being “thorough” with Martinez’s long-term health. He has missed a lot of games over the last few seasons. He has broken his right elbow in the past and missed a few weeks last season with a sprained Lisfranc ligament in his right foot.
It is understandable that the Red Sox want to be thorough and see everything they’re getting from this $110 million investment, especially considering some of their recent signings that have ended poorly, like Pablo Sandoval.
And the addition of Martinez brings up another conversation: Who is the odd man out on the roster?
Martinez is technically a left fielder. But left field on the Red Sox is taken by Andrew Benintendi. The other two outfield positions are filled by Jackie Bradley Jr. (CF) and Mookie Betts (RF), so it is fair to assume that he doesn’t have a full-time position secured in the Red Sox outfield.
Martinez could become the designated hitter. That role is currently filled by Hanley Ramirez, but Ramirez is expected to begin getting more reps at first base. But first base is also occupied by Mitch Moreland. Moreland just re-signed with the Sox this offseason for two years on a cheap deal, meaning the team could afford to keep him around in more of a platoon roll as a bench bat in the late innings. Ramirez, who had his best season at the plate when he was the first baseman in David Ortiz’s last year, may benefit from this as well.
Wow. Martinez, Ramirez and Ortiz in the same paragraph. I feel like I should be 7 years old again.
The Red Sox could also make a move to trade someone to open a full-time spot for Martinez, but with Spring Training already underway, it’s highly unlikely they’ll get a fair deal for any player in return. The team can work as currently constructed if all the players buy-in to overcrowding on a talented roster. Injuries are also a part of the game, so expect to see Martinez seeing games in left field with Moreland at first base, even if it’s not their roles at the start of the year.
And things change throughout the course of the season. Need I remind you of the team’s fifth outfielder on opening day last year: Steve Selsky.