Red Sox: Lorenzo Cain deal should not alter approach to J.D. Martinez

DETROIT, MI - JUNE 27: Center fielder Lorenzo Cain
DETROIT, MI - JUNE 27: Center fielder Lorenzo Cain /

The Boston Red Sox should hold firm to their stance on offering J.D. Martinez a 5-year deal despite that Lorenzo Cain was signed for that same duration.

Negotiations between the Boston Red Sox and free agent target J.D. Martinez remain in a standstill. Boston has a five-year offer on the table and they have held steadfast in their belief that they shouldn’t go beyond that length for a hitter who is already 30 years old.

The market dictates what players can earn and so far a cool market has left the Red Sox with little incentive to raise their offer. That could be changing now that one of the other top free agent outfielders has some off the board, potentially shifting the market.

The Milwaukee Brewers signed Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million deal this week, the largest contract handed out to a free agent this year. While Cain wasn’t on Boston’s shopping list, his deal with the Brewers could have a ripple effect that works against them.

Cain will turn 32 years old in early April, which means his contract will run through his age 36 season. If he was able to land a five-year deal then doesn’t that give Martinez leverage to demand more years given that he’s nearly two years younger? That’s what the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman suggests.

The Cain deal is one agent Scott Boras will certainly point to as reason why his client is worthy of more than five years but I’m not buying the idea that this puts more pressure on the Red Sox to cave into those demands.

For one thing, the Brewers making a risky move to sign an outfielder through his age 36 season doesn’t mean the Red Sox are obligated to make the same mistake. Boston still has no incentive to increase their offer unless another serious suitor forces their hand. Right now they have the best offer on the table and what the Brewers paid for Cain isn’t going to change that.

While there is risk in the Brewers paying Cain until he’s 36, his contract isn’t as risky as paying Martinez at that same age would be given the disparity in salary. Martinez is looking for a deal that averages at least $25 million per year, while Cain will only make $16 million pear year on his deal. If Cain declines rapidly on the back end of his deal then he wouldn’t be quite the albatross that Martinez would be if he falls off a cliff at that age.

You could argue that Martinez is worth the riskier investment because he’s a superior player, coming off a 45 home run campaign in which he led the majors in slugging. Martinez is clearly the better hitter, although Cain is no slouch in that department. He hit .300 with a .803 OPS last season. He also plays solid defense at a premium position in center field and provides value on the base paths, swiping 26+ bases in three of the last four years. Cain’s ability to impact several stages of the game added up to a value of 5.3 WAR last season. The one-dimensional Martinez was worth only 4.2 WAR.

Not that WAR is the be-all-end-all in this debate but this highlights how Cain can be a factor even when he’s struggling at the plate while Martinez can’t. Cain’s defense and base running skills will diminish toward the end of this contract yet by that point he’ll still add more value in those areas than Martinez does now. If Cain’s production at the plate falls off there are still other ways for him to contribute. If Martinez declines rapidly as he approaches his age 36 season then he’s essentially worthless.

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Silverman’s article makes a few fair points that Boras can use as leverage for his client. Despite his defensive limitations, Martinez would prefer to play in the outfield. The Red Sox are offering to make him their primary designated hitter, so it may take a bit of an overpay in order to convince Martinez to accept that role. Sticking him in the DH spot will also help keep him healthier, perhaps prolonging his career and reducing the risk of decline in his mid-30’s. The Red Sox know first hand that David Ortiz was able to still produce until he was 40 years old in part because his role as the DH limited the wear and tear on his body.

Perhaps the most significant factor that separates Martinez from the pack is that he isn’t tied to any draft pick compensation. The mid-season trade that sent him to Arizona last year prevented the Diamondbacks from extending a qualifying offer to Martinez, so a team is free to sign him as a free agent without sacrificing a valuable draft pick. The Brewers did give up a pick when they signed Cain.

These factors can all be used as a selling point by Boras in an attempt to convince the Red Sox that Martinez deserves more than five years. However, Boston’s brass can fire back with any of the aforementioned risks that suggest a late-career fade would hurt Martinez’ value more than it would a player like Cain who can contribute in other areas.

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Both sides can continue to counter with their own arguments but it’s all a moot point unless another team offers more than five years. Even if Martinez is worth giving a seven year deal to it doesn’t mean any team will step up and offer it to him. Martinez can keep holding out all winter but eventually he’ll have to sign somewhere – even if it’s not for quite the deal he had in mind.