Red Sox: J.D. Martinez ensures budget will be tight by not opting-out

ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 31: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox at bat during a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 31, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA - AUGUST 31: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox at bat during a game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 31, 2019 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /

Boston Red Sox designated hitter J.D. Martinez will return next season after he passed on the option to opt-out of his contract.

J.D. Martinez will not opt-out of his contract with the Boston Red Sox, reports ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

There are three years and $62.5 million remaining on the original five-year deal that Martinez signed prior to the 2018 season. A clause in the contract enables him to opt-out before each of the final three years of the deal but he’s decided to pass on his first opportunity to trigger that stipulation.

Uncertainty regarding how much of a market there is for a 32-year old designated hitter may have made Martinez cautious about testing the free agency waters again. National League teams may have ignored him, small market teams couldn’t afford him, and only contenders would have reason to pursue him.

The Red Sox were the only serious suitor for Martinez the last time he hit the market and that was when he was two years younger and didn’t have a qualifying offer attached that would force a team to cough up a draft pick in order to sign him. Why should he assume he’d have better luck this time?

Martinez will have another chance to opt-out prior to the 2021 season when his salary will fall to $19.35 million. A new collective bargaining agreement that’s more friendly to free agents could be in place by then, potentially making it more lucrative for Martinez to be patient.

Martinez’s decision to stay dictates the direction the Red Sox will focus their offseason priorities. They won’t need to worry about finding a bat to plug in the middle of the lineup, allowing them to turn their attention toward upgrading the pitching staff.

Unfortunately, keeping Martinez’s bat in the lineup means his salary is staying on the payroll at a time when ownership is intent on trimming the budget in order to avoid the luxury tax. As difficult as it would be to watch a slugger of his caliber leave, Martinez opting-out would have put them beneath the threshold. They’ll need to find another way to cut costs now.

It won’t be easy to carve out the necessary payroll space but the Red Sox need to find a way to do it that doesn’t involve trading Mookie Betts. He’s not going to sign an extension with any team this year, severely limiting his value on the trade market. You don’t trade away a talent like Betts unless you’re blown away by the offer and that’s not going to happen for a one-year rental.

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Someone has to go though. Perhaps the Red Sox can find a team willing to take one of their high-priced starting pitchers off their hands. That would put another hole in their rotation though. They have a few overpriced pitchers but they won’t be able to replace them with more talented options if they don’t have money to spend. There would be a market for Jackie Bradley Jr. if the Red Sox make him available but they certainly won’t have baseball’s best defensive outfield without him.

Trading Martinez might be an option but it won’t be easy. They will almost certainly be limited to American League teams with an opening in the DH spot. There’s only a few of those teams who could be interested and Martinez can block a trade to three teams. It’s unclear which teams are on his no-trade list but he’ll be given the chance to update his choices later this month, according to MassLive’s Chris Cotillo. It wouldn’t be difficult for Martinez to strategically set his choices to ensure he won’t be sent anywhere he’s not willing to go.

Renegotiating the deal to tack on another year or two while lowering the average annual value for tax purposes would have been an ideal solution but apparently that’s not happening. Cotillo also reported that no adjustments have been made to Martinez’s contract.

By opting-in, Martinez has forced the Red Sox to operate under a tight budget. Even if they manage to find a way to dip under the tax threshold, they’ll be limited to shopping in the bargain bin to fill out their starting rotation and fortify the bullpen.

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The Red Sox are undoubtedly a better team with Martinez’s bat in the lineup next season but keeping him on the payroll may not be what’s best for the team’s future.