Boston Red Sox All-Star outfielder/DH J.D. Martinez hinted that he may be open to restructuring his contract to ensure a longer stay with the organization.
The five-year, $110 million deal that J.D. Martinez signed last winter with the Boston Red Sox is looking really good right now. Maybe a little too good.
Martinez is having an outstanding first season in Boston. He enters the break hitting .328 with a 1.037 OPS and major league-leading 29 home runs. His performance has been rewarded with a spot in the starting lineup for Tuesday’s All-Star Game.
That production makes Martinez’ salary look like a bargain by the standards of today’s superstars. His value has been a plus for the team this year but presents a dilemma in the near future. Martinez’ contract includes opt-outs after the second and third season. If he keeps hitting at this level through next season he’s certain to exercise that opt-out clause.
The Red Sox landed Martinez with a deal a bit less lucrative than initially projected due to a cool free agent market. Many of the top spenders in baseball were looking to duck the luxury tax, inhibiting the market for players like Martinez. That may no longer be the case in two years. Martinez could hit free agency again at a time when the Red Sox will have more competition for his services.
Boston can ensure Martinez remains in town beyond 2019 by restructuring his contract after this season. According to WEEI’s Rob Bradford, Martinez seems open to the idea.
"“Absolutely,” responded Martinez when asked about restructuring his deal. “It would obviously have to be discussed later. Yeah, I’ve liked my time there. It’s been fun so far, so I don’t see why not.“I like the front office. I like the manager. I like everything, the way it’s run. I think it’s trending in a really good way. I wouldn’t mind staying there.”"
Martinez is making $23.75 million this year and is slated to earn the same in each of the next two seasons. If he doesn’t opt out then his salary dips to $19.35 million in each of the last two years. That gives him plenty of incentive to test free agency as long as he’s still performing by that point.
The Red Sox could avoid the risk of losing their star slugger by working out a new deal. One that locks Martinez in through 2022 without opt-outs but pays a higher annual salary. Or they could tack on additional years.
It appears Martinez wants to remain in Boston for the long run and would consider exploring these contract scenarios. That doesn’t necessarily mean the Red Sox will jump at the chance.
Those opt-outs are there for a reason
Keep in mind that the opt-outs were included to protect both sides. The Red Sox benefit by not having to commit to a longer deal. They never wanted to go beyond five years and would have preferred an even shorter deal if they could get it. The five-year deal with opt-outs proved to be a fair compromise.
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Martinez would be 34 years old at the end of his current deal if he doesn’t opt out. His skill set at the plate is one that should age gracefully yet he’s also a bit one-dimensional. While he’s been better than advertised in the field, his defense is certain to slip as he ages. Martinez is primarily a DH now and may need to be cemented in that role full-time by the end of his contract. It will be difficult enough as it is for a player who adds no defensive or baserunning value to live up to this contract on the back end of the deal. It could look worse in the end if they increase his salary or tack on extra years.
Boston also has a young core whose contracts still need to be addressed in the coming years. Chris Sale, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts and Andrew Benintendi will all need to get paid eventually. Can they afford to keep everyone if they restructure Martinez’ deal? Even an ownership with deep pockets has its limits.
Does Boston’s brass view Martinez differently now?
The ideal scenario was that Martinez would fill Boston’s immediate power need for the next two or three years. He would crush the value of his deal while still in his prime. If he opted out after that then they would simply let him walk so that another team could take on the risk of paying him when he’s past his prime. His salary would then be allocated to locking up the rest of their core.
Has half a season changed that outlook?
Maybe, although it’s not just because of his monster production. Martinez provides a power threat in the lineup this team hasn’t had since David Ortiz retired. His presence has helped those around him improve. It’s no coincidence that Betts, Benintendi, Bogaerts and Mitch Moreland are all having career years. Take the intimidation factor Martinez brings out fo the lineup and it could take a toll on everyone else.
There are other intangibles to consider. Martinez is a positive influence in the clubhouse. His teammates love him. He’s growing into a leader and finding a comfort zone in that role.
The Red Sox must also consider how their treatment of Martinez reflects on their organization. How will it look if they let Martinez walk for more money elsewhere? Take care of the veteran now to reward his performance and it may build goodwill that will benefit negotiations with other players.
Giving more money or more years to Martinez is a dangerous game. One they weren’t willing to risk when they held a firm line in free agent negotiations last winter. However, based on what we’ve seen on and off the field from Martinez thus far, letting him get away could be even more dangerous.