Red Sox: J.D. Martinez’s 2020 failure limits Boston’s rebuilding efforts

The real cost to the Red Sox for J.D. Martinez’s failure in 2020

The post mortem of the Red Sox disastrous 2020 season is in full swing and I certainly will join in doing the baseball autopsy. The most mentioned cause of the fatality was bad pitching, but the cure (hopefully) will be a return sometime in 2021 of Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez. Then there is the bullpen.

If one has a certain degree of faith in baseball doctor Chaim Bloom that problem will be addressed and cured. The trail of bullpen success is certainly noted at Bloom’s last place of employment – the Tampa Bay Rays. Bloom manages to find and root out his share of pitching truffles.

From my perspective, the most noteworthy failure was J.D. Martinez for not having a typical Martinez season. He has an opt-out clause in his contract but the market for a designated hitter and blundering outfielder would be rather slim after hitting .213.

Martinez will likely stay anchored to Boston at $19.350M for 2021 but has another opt-out ahead of 2022 and that will possibly limit a Red Sox rebuild. My disappointment was that Martinez did not have a great season, but not for the obvious reasons meaning it may have catapulted the Red Sox into the elevated atmosphere of fourth place. His failure just may limit the direction of a team rebuild.

The Red Sox team has reset the luxury tax and Martinez simply limits just what avenues they can explore regarding expenditures. The Sox aren’t suddenly going to morph into a stingy franchise. Various management pronouncements have stated that they will spend to improve and based on the history of the current ownership that rings true. Martinez’s failure just makes it more difficult.

If J.D. had put up his usual numbers his name would be sprinkled in the upper reaches of favorable traditional and metric statistics. His value for a trade would also be far more favorable. Now? It’s more like ten cents on the dollar.

Martinez could also have exited his Red Sox contract and venture elsewhere not necessarily for more money, but a greater length of the contract. The length of the deal can often be a decision-maker as with Mookie Betts getting a 12-year deal. Boston is still paying off part of  David Price and then there are Sale’s five years or will it be three and one-half years? Pitchers are the risk of contract length. Players like long-term security especially with opt-outs as part of the package.

The Red Sox are stuck with Martinez who may or may not recover from his offensive doldrums. A Martinez going elsewhere – and it was certainly a focal point before the trading deadline – would open up the DH spot to other alternatives.

Error-prone Rafael Devers could switch over opening up third base to Bobby Dalbec or a deteriorating Michael Chavis. Maybe they would be tempted to flip the Martinez money to a high profile free-agent signing such as George Springer? The Red Sox would have had some additional play money with Martinez off the Boston books.

The Red Sox are in a fiscal reduction mode, but also have dead money of Price and possibly Dustin Pedroia to further complicate their payroll. Martinez going elsewhere would certainly enhance the payroll bottom line considerably just as the departure of Betts and allow some flexibility. Possibly answer the long-range question of what the talented Bloom could accomplish with money?

J.D. Martinez did all that was expected for his first two seasons as DH and a worthy replacement for the loss of David Ortiz, but now? The ultimate loss is if Martinez’s 2020 is just the beginning of a slide to where the Red Sox eventually have to swallow a large chunk of what remains on his contract as they explore other options. If Martinez returns to 2018-2019 form the Red Sox will have a pleasant dilemma.