Red Sox Rumors: J.D. Martinez torn on contract opt-out decision

BOSTON, MA - JULY 24: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees during the ninth inning at Fenway Park on July 24, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - JULY 24: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox against the New York Yankees during the ninth inning at Fenway Park on July 24, 2021 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo By Winslow Townson/Getty Images) /

The future of J.D. Martinez with the Red Sox remains uncertain

Are we witnessing the final days of J.D. Martinez in a Boston Red Sox uniform? That’s a question that the veteran designated hitter can’t even answer yet.

Martinez is in his fourth season of a 5-year, $110 million contract that included three opt-out provisions. He passed up the opportunity to test free agency by opting into his contract in each of the last two years. Martinez has until five days after the World Series ends to decide whether to exercise his $19.35 million player option for the 2022 season.

When asked about this looming decision, Martinez told WEEI’s Rob Bradford that he wasn’t currently leaning in either direction.

"“I’m right in the middle,” said Martinez. “It’s a balancing line, and I’m right in the middle. I haven’t made a decision. I don’t worry about that stuff, but right now I’m right in the middle.”"

Clearly, his focus is on helping the Red Sox finish the season strong with an eye on October. That doesn’t mean thoughts about his contract aren’t creeping around in the back of his mind though. Martinez isn’t necessarily deflecting with his comment, it’s perfectly reasonable to assume he hasn’t made up his mind on this difficult decision.

Martinez hasn’t given us any reason to believe he’s unhappy in Boston. He’s performed well in this city, won a World Series with this franchise, is on the verge of returning to the postseason and there’s enough young talent around him to believe this success is sustainable.

His decision is more likely to be financially motivated. This might be the last opportunity for the 34-year-old to cash in with a lucrative contract. Martinez might be hard-pressed to find offers that will pay him north of $19 million next season but he could lock himself into more money in the long run with a multi-year deal.

Martinez is having another strong season for the Red Sox, hitting .285 with a .865 OPS, 27 home runs and 96 RBI. Those numbers aren’t quite where they were during his first two years in Boston but it’s still star-caliber production, proving last year’s miserable shortened season was an outlier.

His bounce-back campaign is certainly enough to earn him a multi-year deal. With his age and limited defensive ability, Martinez might not be able to say the same a year from now.

Why Martinez might opt-in to stay with the Red Sox

Testing the free-agent waters isn’t without risk. The collective bargaining agreement expires in December and many teams will put their free agency plans on hold until the details are ironed out. This crop of free agents could be in for a frigid winter if the new CBA lowers the collective bargaining tax threshold. On the other hand, we could see a free agency frenzy if the threshold is raised or a payroll floor is implemented.

There is optimism that the new CBA will bring back the universal DH, which was experimented with last season. That would certainly expand the list of suitors for Martinez, making free agency more appealing. It’s hardly a lock to happen though. If Martinez is limited almost exclusively to AL teams that can plug him into that DH role, his market could plummet to the point where he would have been better off opting into the final year of his deal with the Red Sox.

Unfortunately for Martinez, he needs to make his decision before the new CBA is completed. He might hear enough whispers about the negotiations in the meantime to make a fairly informed decision but that means waiting until the last minute would be in his best interest.

What the Red Sox can do if Martinez opts-out

Even if Martinez opts out, it doesn’t necessarily end his tenure in Boston. He could always re-sign a new deal that keeps him in town for a few more years while lowering the salary that counts against the luxury tax.

Martinez would leave a gaping hole in the lineup if he were to sign elsewhere in free agency but the Red Sox would also shed over $19 million from their payroll. Re-signing Kyle Schwarber could become a top priority when he inevitably opts out of his mutual option. Boston will hopefully keep Martinez or Schwarber but not both, considering how defensively challenged this team becomes when they attempt to plug both in the same lineup.

With top prospect Triston Casas potentially creating an infield logjam when he arrives at some point next season, the Red Sox might prefer to allocate the savings to their pitching staff if Martinez and Schwarber both opt out.

The Red Sox should be prepared for a busy offseason as they aim to make the leap from battling for the Wild Card to a true World Series contender. They have plenty of decisions to make but most will need to wait until Martinez makes his own decision. He’s the first major domino to fall and at least for now, Martinez isn’t giving us any hints about his future.

Next. Red Sox need to show some fight. dark