Red Sox Rumors: J.D. Martinez expected to opt-out of deal to test free agency

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) /

Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez could be hitting free agency this offseason

The Boston Red Sox expect to have a busy offseason but much of their planning hinges on a decision from J.D. Martinez, who has the option to opt-out of the final year of his contract to test free agency.

On The Athletic Baseball Show podcast, Ken Rosenthal stated that he expects Martinez to exercise that opt-out in order to lock in more guaranteed money.

"“The Red Sox have a lot of money,” said Rosenthal. “I don’t expect finances to be a problem this offseason. But they do have a number of outstanding contractual issues that they need to address. The first, I guess, would be the J.D. Martinez opt-out. That’s not their choice. That’s his. I expect him to opt out. He’s got one year, over $19 million left on that deal. Could he beat that guaranteed (money) on the open market? Yes. Absolutely, he could.”"

Martinez is entering the final season of the five-year deal he signed prior to the 2018 season. The contract included opt-out clauses in each of the final three years, the first two of which he declined to exercise. He would earn $19.35 million if he opts-in for the 2022 season but it feels less likely that he’ll go that route this time for a variety of reasons.

As noted by Rosenthal, Martinez would almost certainly receive more money on the open market than he would by opting into his existing deal. He might not find any offers that would pay him north of $19.35 million next season but a multi-year deal that locks in more guaranteed money could be more appealing to the 34-year-old.

There was no question that Martinez was going to opt-in following his dismal 2020 season when he hit a meager .213 with a .680 OPS. A bounce-back campaign in which he hit .286 with an .867 OPS, 28 home runs and league-leading 42 doubles sets him up for a bigger payday this offseason.

The expectation that the new collective bargaining agreement will include the universal DH potentially expands the list of suitors for his services. National League teams that previously overlooked the defensively-challenged Martinez would suddenly have interest if they could plug him into the DH role he’s primarily filled for the Red Sox.

It’s clear why Martinez would be tempted to explore his options in free agency but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’s on his way out of Boston. Opting out could open the door for a long-term deal that keeps him in a Red Sox uniform for a few more years. A multi-year deal could provide Martinez with the security of more guaranteed money while creating flexibility in Boston’s 2022 payroll with a contract that pays a lower average annual value. For example, a three-year, $45 million deal more than doubles the total dollars owed to Martinez but saves the Red Sox over $4 million for luxury tax purposes next season compared to if he opted into his existing contract.

If Martinez does bolt in free agency, attention could immediately shift to Kyle Schwarber. Rosenthal, along with essentially everyone else, expects Schwarber to decline his modest $11.5 million mutual option to become a free agent. Schwarber is ready to cash in on his first All-Star campaign in which he hit .266 with a .928 OPS and 32 home runs.

Schwarber was excellent down the stretch following a mid-season trade that sent him from the Washington Nationals to Boston. His .435 OBP with the Red Sox led American League hitters in the second half of the season.

Rosenthal mentions that the Red Sox have money to spend so they should have no problem affording a new contract for Martinez or Schwarber. They shouldn’t pay up for both though. While they are both capable of providing depth with the occasional start in the outfield, they are better suited for the DH role. Boston tested Schwarber at first base but with Bobby Dalbec’s second-half surge and top prospect Triston Casas arriving soon, they aren’t locking in a long-term deal for any free agent with the intention of using them at that position.

"“The Red Sox are going to spend money,” Rosenthal said. “How they are going to spend it, I’m not sure. How many of these players who could be gone will return, I don’t know about that either.”"

There are a lot of unknowns about how Chaim Bloom will approach this offseason but one thing we can expect is that Martinez and Schwarber are likely to enter free agency, placing the debate about which one the Red Sox should re-sign at the center of the discussion this winter.

Next. 3 scary free agents to avoid. dark