Red Sox Free Agency: What Yu Darvish deal means for J.D. Martinez


Yu Darvish didn’t make as much as expected despite being the top pitcher on the market. Could this make J.D. Martinez view the Red Sox offer differently?

The hot stove is finally heating up but it’s not due to desperate teams opening their checkbooks. Players are starting to realize the reality of the current market, which can only work in favor of the Boston Red Sox.

The Chicago Cubs signed the top free agent pitcher on the market, inking Yu Darvish to a 6-year, $126 million deal, as reported by The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. The contract includes incentives that could push the value to as high as $150 million, although as Rosenthal points out, the chances of reach that total are slim.

This still represents the largest contract handed out to a free agent this winter even without the incentives. However, it’s still well below initial projections. MLB Trade Rumors nailed the Cubs as the destination in their free agency predictions back in November. While the length of the contract was also on point, a best case scenario for Darvish still puts him short of the projected $160 million.

Darvish entered the offseason eyeing the $200+ million deals signed by the top pitchers on the market in recent years. The offers he received were never in the same ballpark, while his $21 million average annual value is well short what Zack Greinke ($34.2 million), David Price ($31 million) and Max Scherzer ($30 million) earned. Darvish will earn less than the $25.8 million this same Cubs team gave Jon Lester three years ago.

His contract may not compare favorably to those elite starters but his production has. Since he came to the majors in 2012, Darvish is 12th among starting pitchers with a 3.24 xFIP. That ties him with Price over that same span and puts him just behind Scherzer (3.17 xFIP). Darvish rates better than Greinke (3.29 xFIP) and Lester (3.52 xFIP) in this sample. Darvish also leads all active starting pitchers with a 11.04 K/9 since he came into the league.

He has delivered an ace performance throughout his career but isn’t being paid the same way as other top-tier starters. If anyone wasn’t convinced that we’re dealing in drastically different market conditions compared to recent years, this is your rude awakening. Fewer teams with money to spend means there is less to go around in free agency. Many believed stars would still get paid while the lower tier free agents would be impacted the most. The Darvish deal proves otherwise.

If the top starting pitcher on the market had to settle for less than he expected, one has to assume the same will apply to the top hitter. Someone please explain that to J.D. Martinez. The Red Sox have a five-year offer on the table rumored to be for as much as $125 million. Martinez has scoffed at what he perceives as a low-ball offer. Given what Darvish received, $125 million seems generous.

Martinez has to stop comparing his worth to what other star hitters earned in previous years. He’s not getting that $200 million deal he expected, just as Darvish didn’t. Not in this environment. Darvish recognized the state of the market and took what he could get.

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Scott Boras appears to be one of the few who has yet to recognize this – or at least accept it. With Darvish off the board, the top three available free agents – Martinez, Eric Hosmer, and Jake Arrieta – are all Boras clients. The super-agent has a history of playing the waiting game and may be willing to let his clients wait into spring training. There is a limit to how long they can wait though, as none of these players want to be without a job when the regular season begins.

Martinez would be wise to take a page out of Darvish’s book. The Red Sox don’t want to give Martinez more than five years and they are concerned about overpaying him on the back end of the deal. Fine, so counter the offer with a similar deal that includes incentives. Martinez can earn more than what Boston is offering but in order to reach his peak salary he’ll have to continue performing at this level.

Darvish also negotiated an opt-out after the second year of his deal, as reported by Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Passan. If Martinez isn’t satisfied with the offers he’s getting then he should accept a deal that includes an opt-out provision allowing him to test the market again in two years. A significant factor in this year’s slow market is that several big spenders are gearing up for next year’s loaded free agent class. Perhaps the market will improve once we see how next year’s free agency pans out. If not, Martinez doesn’t have to exercise the opt-out.

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Martinez is rightfully frustrated with the position he finds himself in. A year or two ago he wouldn’t have nearly as much trouble finding more lucrative offers. It’s not his fault he hit the market after the new CBA tightened the checkbooks of several top spenders. It may not be fair to him but it’s the reality of the situation. Darvish figured that out. It’s time that Martinez did too.