BOSTON — A fascinating decision awaits J.D. Martinez at the season’s end.
With three years and $62.5 million remaining on his contract, Martinez can opt out and become a free agent once again. He’ll be 32 years old. In the midst of another All-Star season, Martinez came into last Saturday hitting .310 with 27 home runs and 71 RBIs. He’s well on his way to posting an OPS over .900 for the fourth straight season.
But as the slugger found out the hard way, it’s an exceptionally difficult market to read.
Does Martinez feel he got the respect he deserved the last time he hit free agency in 2017?
“Nope,” he told the Derry News bluntly.
Coming off a mammoth year that was split between Detroit and Arizona, Martinez was the first big-ticket free agent to be frozen out in the new climate of slow spending. With an initial ask rumored to be around $200 million, the slugger was forced to wait until spring training began before agreeing to a five-year, $110 million deal with the Red Sox.
Even that took additional time, as the two sides agreed to terms, but fearing a recurring foot injury, the Sox dragged their own feet for an extra week to protect themselves. It certainly wasn’t what Martinez and super-agent Scott Boras envisioned when free agency first opened.
Would that experience tempt Martinez to test the market again?
“That’s something I’ll consider when the season is over,” Martinez said. “I’m not even thinking about that. I’m thinking about (the next pitcher).”
Trying to gauge Martinez’s market will be even trickier given his transition to a mostly-DH role. If teams see him trending that way, it could eliminate the suitors in the entire National League.
After playing 57 games in the outfield last season, Martinez only had 25 starts in the field coming into last weekend. He’s been a bit banged up, but claimed ignorance when asked why that playing time had dipped.
“I don’t know,” Martinez said. “No idea. You’ve gotta ask Alex (Cora) that question.”
Playing the outfield was important to Martinez last season — it’s not just a contract year thing — and he made it clear that he still wants to be out there.
“I do,” Martinez said. “But it is what it is. I’m not the boss. I think Alex is trying to put the best team out there so that we can win. I think last year we were ahead a lot more. He was able to put me out there and give guys days off. But we’re not. We’re playing behind so we’re trying to catch up.” Would playing the outfield factor into a potential opt-out decision? “You’ve got to ask Scott Boras these questions,” he said. “That’s all I leave it up to.”
From a Red Sox perspective, it’s just as fascinating. Still leery with the Lisfranc foot injury, Dave Dombrowski said they hadn’t planned on reworking his deal last offseason.
But say Martinez does opt out. Can the Red Sox afford to lose his lineup-altering bat, with the possibility that Mookie Betts might be gone after 2020, too?
They don’t win the 2018 World Series without Martinez, who drove in 14 runs in 14 playoff games, and haven’t seen his production drop drastically since.
On an underachieving 2019 team, the cleanup hitter remains a bright spot. Asked about another All-Star season on an individual level, Martinez brought the conversation back to what he says matters the most to him right now.
“I mean it’s great for me personally, but I don’t really — I came here to win, you know?” Martinez said. “I got my contract. I’ve got whatever. I’m secure in my life. I just want to win. That’s my job. That’s all I want here. It just hurts me that we’re not being able to do that. I wish I could be doing more honestly, to try to help us win more.”
Chris Mason is a Red Sox beat writer for CNHI Sports Boston. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow him on Twitter at @ByChrisMason.