Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez expects to opt-in to his 2021 player option.
One of the biggest questions looming over the Boston Red Sox heading into the offseason is the future of J.D. Martinez. The star designated hitter has been a linchpin in the lineup over the last few years but an opt-out clause in his contract could allow him to hit the open market this winter.
Martinez was set to earn $23.75 million this season before the pandemic-shortened season shrunk that figure to a prorated amount. If losing money due to the truncated schedule wasn’t bad enough, his salary will fall to $19.35 million in each of the next two seasons if he doesn’t trigger the opt-out clause.
The Red Sox are in the midst of a miserable season and while their rebuild isn’t expected to last long, there’s no guarantee it will finish before his contract runs out. That could entice Martinez to try to latch on to a contender elsewhere.
The National League finally embracing the designated hitter role opens the door for more potential suitors, eliminating one of the challenges Martinez faced the last time he tested free agency.
This offseason might be the last opportunity for Martinez to cash in with a big pay day. He’s more likely to get a lucrative deal at 33 years old than he would be if he waited for his contract with the Red Sox to run out when he’ll be 35.
These factors have led many to speculate that Martinez would opt-out but that doesn’t appear to be the case. Martinez said that he still needs to speak to his agent, Scott Boras, before making a final decision but he told reporters via a zoom call on Friday that he’s leaning toward opting-in.
"“Given the situation, I’m probably not leaving that way,” responded Martinez when asked if he intends to opt-out, per the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier."
Boras is known for pushing his clients toward free agency and getting them paid but this might be an exception. While Martinez has the name recognition and reputation of a star player, he hasn’t had the production to back up that status this season.
Martinez owns a career-low .217 batting average and a .682 OPS that would be his lowest since 2013. He hasn’t been anywhere near this ineffective at the plate since his early days with the Houston Astros before he revamped his swing by joining the launch angle revolution.
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He led the Red Sox in home runs over the last two seasons but Martinez enters the day with only six this year, placing him in a three-way tie for fifth place on the team. Mitch Moreland is still third on the team with 8 homers despite being traded away after 22 games. Bobby Dalbec has moved ahead of Martinez with 7 home runs in only 20 games since his mid-season call-up.
Martinez isn’t hitting the ball as hard as he did in previous seasons. His 41.7 Hard Hit percentage remains comfortably above league average but it’s a steep drop from his 48.7 rate since 2015. His 25.2 strikeout percentage and 9.0 walk percentage are both trending in the wrong direction.
Potential suitors on the free-agent market might take these signs of regression as evidence that Martinez is washed up. Or at least on the down slope of his career. A lucrative multi-year deal would be incredibly risky for a player coming off of such a disappointing season at his age. It’s hard to imagine Martinez getting paid more than the $19.35 million he’ll make with the Red Sox if he opts-in for next year.
Despite the lackluster results from this season, Martinez doesn’t believe he’s done. This year has been a challenge with the pandemic ruining his regular routine to prepare for the season. New rules were temporarily put in place that prevent hitters from watching video of their at-bats during games to enforce social distancing, further altering his routine. The limitations that players had to accept in order for this 2020 season to happen have been detrimental for a creature of habit like Martinez.
Next year should be different. Martinez said that his plan is to get back to work on his training regimen. Having a normal offseason and spring training that doesn’t include being stuck at home under quarantine for months should allow him to get back on track.
This is potentially great news for the Red Sox if a brutal season from Martinez in a short season where they had no chance to contend anyway is the reason why he opts-in to stay. Boston could benefit if the old, productive version of Martinez returns next year.