Making the case for the Red Sox to re-sign JD Martinez

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 5: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox reacts before a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on October 5, 2022 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 5: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Boston Red Sox reacts before a game against the Tampa Bay Rays on October 5, 2022 at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

JD Martinez has reached the end of his 5yr/$110M contract signed in 2018.

His journey with the Boston Red Sox has been one of highs and lows, but overall, in his 635 games played with the club, he hit 130 HR and slashed .292/.363/.526 with a 135 OPS+.

The veteran DH has been more than worth the money, but is there really a case to be made for resigning him? Is the 35-year-old in the twilight of his career, or is there enough gas left in the tank for the Red Sox to bring him back?

JD Martinez is aging (and declining)

2022 was Martinez’s worst full season with the Sox. He only hit 16 home runs (including two in the last game of the season) with a 116 OPS+, and definitely ended the season on a low note, posting a .672 OPS since June 27th. This, however, is an incomplete argument – he had a .924 OPS up to that point, and a .994 OPS as late as June 16th.

It’s undeniable that Martinez’s best years are behind him; he turned 35 last month and almost impossible that he’d ever reach the heights of 2018 (43 HR, 173 OPS+) again. It would be a surprise if he even puts up his 2019 (36, 139) again.

That said, compared to all Designated Hitters with a minimum of 400 PA in 2022, Martinez ranked 10th in wRC+ (119). Even in a down year, he was still among one of the best DHs in baseball, and those who rank ahead of him include breakout Dan Vogelbach, Phillies star Bryce Harper (who is only DH’ing due to injury), and two different Blue Jays DHs, so the case can be made that he should rank higher.

The biggest issue for Martinez is the disappearance of power. He’s hitting more balls on the ground (34.4% in ’21, 38.2% in ’22), and he’s hitting the ball much softer (49.4% Hard-Hit% in ’21, 41.4% in ’22). However, to say his power is gone is not entirely accurate – only his home-run power is depleted. He tied for second in the AL with a career-high 43 doubles this year after tying Harper for the league lead with 42 last year. Martinez’s .448 SLG highlights his lack of HR power, but he’s still hitting doubles better than anyone, nearly leading the league in just 139 games.

Why should the Red Sox keep JD Martinez?

Martinez is a 35-year-old, top-10 DH on the decline. Why should the Red Sox keep him around?

For one thing, who’s the better option? Assuming Triston Casas is the everyday first baseman in 2023, then the internal options for DH would be Bobby Dalbec (80 OPS+), Eric Hosmer (108 OPS+), and Franchy Cordero (92 OPS+). They’re fine as depth pieces, but certainly not up to the task of replacing Martinez as the lineup’s preeminent power hitter.

As for external options, impending free agents Jose Abreu and Anthony Rizzo could be excellent additions to the team, but they would come at a premium cost. They’re also 33+ years old, so neither could be a long-term option. Both are likely seeking multi-year deals this offseason, but neither is far from the decline Martinez is already exhibiting. Via trade, the Sox could acquire someone like Salvador Perez and move him to DH, but he’s set to earn $62M over three more seasons, and the Sox’ financial flexibility this offseason must go to more pressing matters, like pitching.

In their end-of-year press conference on Thursday, the Sox brass displayed a willingness to trade high-level prospects this offseason. They would need to in order to make any trade for a new DH. But whether it’s via trade or free-agent signing, acquiring a new DH is going to be more expensive than re-signing the current DH.

What would it cost the Red Sox to keep JD Martinez?

Given Martinez’s struggles and diminished power this year, a Qualifying Offer (approximately $19M) is almost certainly off the table.

But that doesn’t mean the Sox won’t make him a regular offer. Last offseason, the Washington Nationals were able to land DH Nelson Cruz for 1yr/$15M with a mutual option for 2023. Cruz was 5 years older than Martinez is now, but he was also coming off a much better season, hitting 32 HR with a 129 OPS+. Still, balancing Martinez’s age and Cruz’s numbers, it’s a good comparison for a potential contract.

If Martinez is demanding a multi-year deal – say, 3yr/$45M – then it’s time to move on. But if he’ll accept one year in the $10-15M range with an option for the following season, that might be the best option the Sox will get for a 2023 DH. Even in decline, Martinez still provides plenty of value, as seen by his power in the first few months and at the end of this season.

Will the Red Sox Keep J.D. Martinez?

If I had to make a prediction, I’d say Martinez will be wearing a different uniform in 2023.

Extension talks have yet to begin, but the Sox will be busy negotiating contracts with Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers. If Bogaerts does leave, it frees the money for the Red Sox to make a big splash in free agency, which may push Martinez out of the door. I’m incredibly thankful for what Martinez has done for this team, and I believe the Red Sox would be wise to keep him, but I’m not in the front office, and Chaim Bloom probably has a different vision in the works.