Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez…. or Kyle Schwarber
The Red Sox have a pair of All-Star hitters potentially hitting free agency. Boston can’t afford to lose both of these sluggers but it’s hard to imagine that they will bring back both of them. Which one will they choose – J.D. Martinez or Kyle Schwarber?
The decision might be made for them depending on what Martinez decides to do about his $19.35 million player option. He passed on the opportunity to opt-out in each of the last two years but free agency might be more appealing as approaches his third and final opt-out decision.
There was zero chance he would opt-out in the wake of his brutal 2020 season but a bounce-back campaign sets him up to earn a multi-year deal. The expectation that the universal DH will be included in the new CBA this winter should increase his potential suitors and drive up the price.
If Martinez bolts in free agency, re-signing Schwarber should become a priority. While many were initially irritated by Boston’s perceived lack of activity at the trade deadline, Schwarber ended up being one of the best players dealt mid-season. He hit .291/.435/.522 with seven home runs in 41 games in a Red Sox uniform. He performed well on the postseason stage and his grand slam in Game 3 of the ALCS was one of the highlights of Boston’s postseason run.
Schwarber proved to be a great fit in the clubhouse and he’s been open about his interest in returning to Boston. Why wouldn’t they want to lock him up with a new deal?
The presence of Martinez, if he stays, would be the reason to let Schwarber walk. As valuable as both of these bats are to the Red Sox, squeezing them into the same lineup with only one DH spot available simply isn’t feasible long-term. They made it work for two months down the stretch and into the postseason but the benefit for their offensive production came at the expense of an already shaky defense.
Upgrading the defense should be among the top priorities for the Red Sox this offseason. Schwarber spent most of his career in the National League where he was at least serviceable in the field but Boston’s best outfield alignment includes Alex Verdugo, Kike Hernandez and Hunter Renfroe. If Jarren Duran shows he’s ready for the big leagues, he could eventually claim center field and push Hernandez to second base. Either way, there’s no everyday spot for Schwarber.
He performed admirably under the circumstances while learning first base but the Red Sox can’t count on him to stick at the position on a regular basis. Bobby Dalbec will still be there to steal playing time at first and top prospect Triston Casas is on the way.
Martinez opting-out doesn’t necessarily signal the end of his tenure in Boston. He could always re-sign on a multi-year deal, one which presumably lowers his salary for luxury tax purposes to create more financial flexibility. He will essentially be in the same situation as Schwarber with the same list of suitors likely to consider either star hitter. That will include Boston but they won’t spend up for both of them.
If Martinez leaves, his salary being wiped from the payroll will help the Red Sox afford a new contract for Schwarber, who would take over the regular DH duties. If Martinez opts-in, Boston will reluctantly let Schwarber go in order to find a more efficient way to allocate their available resources.