Red Sox: Previous free agency mistakes won’t dictate J.D. Martinez market

LOS ANGELES, CA - OCTOBER 06: J.D. Martinez /

Bloated salaries clogging up the Boston Red Sox payroll serve as a reminder why they should not overpay for free agent slugger J.D. Martinez.

The stalemate that the Boston Red Sox find themselves in with free agent outfielder J.D. Martinez continues with neither side showing any signs of blinking.

We’ve heard for weeks that the Red Sox have a five-year offer on the table for Martinez. The 30-year old slugger has been insisting on at least six years and may be willing to hold out into spring training to get what he wants but the empty threat hasn’t convinced Boston’s brass to budge.

The latest report reveals that Boston’s offer is in the $100 million range. While this shows the team is holding firm on the five-year limit, the $20 million average annual value comes in lower than most projected for the top hitter on the market.

This perceived low-ball offer has left many fans grumbling that the Red Sox need to make a more realistic offer to get a deal done. Otherwise, the power outage that plagued Boston’s lineup last year will continue to hang over the team like a storm cloud that threatens to send fans scattering from Fenway Park. Some even see this offer a slap in the face to Martinez given how it compares to contracts the franchise has dolled out to inferior talents in recent years.

It’s true that only a few short years ago, the Red Sox gave Pablo Sandoval a five-year, $95 million deal that was just shy of the value they are currently placing on Martinez. Hanley Ramirez was given a four-year deal that same offseason with a higher average annual value of $22 million. How is a guy that led the majors in slugging and blasted 45 home runs last year not worth significantly more than those two?

We can all agree that the Sandoval and Ramirez deals turned out to be busts. Sandoval played parts of three brutal seasons in Boston, compiling a -2.1 WAR before he was mercifully released last summer. Ramirez sandwiched one good season between two below-replacement level performances.

Martinez is undoubtedly a better player than Sandoval or Ramirez but his value now has little to do with what the team thought those two were worth a few years ago. The fact that they clearly overpaid for a pair of free agent mistakes does not mean they need to pay Martinez significantly more now.

Think about where the market was in 2014. The crop of free agents that year was highlighted by Max Scherzer (7-years, $210) and Jon Lester (6-years, $155). The top of the market for starting pitching was strong that year but thin on position players. It’s easy to forget given how putrid their production in Boston has been but Sandoval and Ramirez are former All-Stars with solid track records. Each carried significant red flags that the Red Sox should have paid more attention to but they were considered the top bats on the market at the time. This is both a sad testament to the shallow crop of free agent hitters that year and to how far those former stars have fallen.

We can draw some similar parallels to the case Martinez finds himself in negotiating with the Red Sox. He’s the clear top bat on the market and Boston has a pressing need for a power hitter of his ilk. The similarities between this year and 2014 end there.

Martinez is the top prize in a pool that few teams are looking to swim in. Most teams are looking to slash payroll in anticipation for next year’s superior crop of free agents or desperately trying to claw their way below the luxury tax line.

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He’s one of the elite power hitters in the game but Martinez is a fairly one-dimensional player who provides little in terms of defense or base running. The one tool he provides happens to be among the easiest to find. Home run totals are rapidly rising across the majors, leaving the free agent market saturated with power threats.

Carlos Santana (3-years, $60 million) and Jay Bruce (3-years, $39 million) both signed contracts below what most initially projected they would be worth. Martinez is better than both but he’s not twice as valuable. Eric Hosmer is another top free agent hitter struggling to find the lucrative offers he assumed he would get. Mike Moustakas, Logan Morrison and Lucas Duda are cheaper alternatives who remain available to teams looking to add some pop without paying a premium.

Boston needs a power threat to anchor their lineup but Martinez may need the Red Sox just as much as they need him. $100 million may seem like a low-ball offer compared to what was projected for him but those estimates were based off of how he compares to free agents that signed lucrative deals in previous years. The albatross contracts the Red Sox have handed out in the past don’t dictate what they should offer Martinez now. The market dictates what he is worth.

The Red Sox have made their offer and have no incentive to increase it unless another suitor forces their hand. So far no other team appears willing to step up. Martinez can wait it out as long as he wants but eventually he’ll have to make a decision. What is he going to do, sit out a full season without getting paid just because he couldn’t get what he wanted? That would be foolish.

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Boston has an offer that is surprisingly low but at the moment it’s the best offer on the table. There is no reason for them to bid against themselves so it seems they are taking the wise approach of preaching patience.