CARLSBAD, Calif. — It’s fun to imagine what Chaim Bloom would have done with an extra $19.35 million had J.D. Martinez opted out of his contract to become a free agent.
A creative executive, and Bloom certainly is that, could do a lot of damage with that much payroll space.
The obvious move would be to retain Kyle Schwarber to take over as designated hitter. Schwarber fit in seamlessly with the Sox last season and embraced all that comes with playing in Boston, which isn’t always easy for newcomers.
But that wouldn’t have been the only option. That kind of money opens more doors in free agency or creates the possibility of taking on another Adam Ottavino-type of expensive veteran for a year provided a legitimate prospect is attached.
Five players Bloom added to the roster since 2020 — Christian Arroyo, Kiké Hernández, Nick Pivetta, Hunter Renfroe, and Garrett Whitlock — gave the Red Sox 14.2 WAR at the cost of only $11.86 million last season and played important roles in the postseason.
Martinez in many ways is the antithesis of what Bloom wants in a player. He’s expensive, aging and not at all versatile defensively.
But running into Dave Dombrowski at the MLB’s General Manager Meetings on Monday brought with it a reminder of why Sox fans should be grateful Martinez decided to stay.
It was Dombrowski who signed Martinez to a complicated five-year, $110 million deal in 2018 that included multiple opt-outs and other language designed to protect the Red Sox if Martinez had a re-occurrence of a foot injury that hampered him the previous season.
Through four years, it has proven to be a fantastic deal for the team. In that time, Martinez is 10th in the majors in OPS (.917), second in RBIs (361), third in extra-base hits (249), tied for fifth in doubles (128), and eighth in home runs (114).
He also has played in 91 percent of the regular-season games and in 23 postseason games has hit .317 with a 1.005 OPS and 24 RBIs.
Beyond that, Martinez has been a positive influence on teammates with his work ethic and attention to detail when it comes to hitting, something the Sox had been missing after David Ortiz retired.
When one of your best players shows up at lunch time to start preparing for a game seven hours later, it rubs off on everybody else.
His one blemish is 2020. Martinez didn’t opt out of that COVID-19 shortened season. But he opted out emotionally, hitting .213 with a .680 OPS.
Not having access to in-game video threw Martinez off his routine as did the restrictions about how much time players could spend at the ballpark. With the team struggling and the stands empty, it was a lost season.
If you’re factoring 2020 into any projection on Martinez, give that more thought. He was back among the best DHs in the game last season, posting an .867 OPS with 42 doubles, 28 homers and 99 RBIs for a team that advanced to the ALCS.
Martinez is 34, so the clock is running. But a hitter of his caliber going into what he knows for sure will be a contract season could put up huge numbers.
If, as expected, MLB institutes a universal DH for 2022, Martinez will benefit greatly. That would be perfect for him.
Martinez hit .213 with a .588 OPS in 174 plate appearances as an outfielder the last two seasons. Put him at DH for 150 games and a reasonable projection is a .900 OPS, 35 home runs and 110 RBIs.
Bloom has not ruled out the idea of retaining Schwarber. But it was awkward finding playing time for Martinez, Schwarber, Alex Verdugo and Bobby Dalbec for seven weeks last season. Doing that for six months seems unlikely.
There is always the possibility of trading Martinez.
Seattle and Texas have money to spend and are possibilities. If NL teams get added to the mix, maybe Dombrowski would make a deal to bring Martinez to Philadelphia or the Mets could look to add a big bat to their tepid offense.
The Dodgers and Giants would be more likely to use multiple players as the DH. The same is probably true of the Cardinals.
But the Sox were two victories away from the World Series last season. They’re a team that wants to add good players, not subtract. Martinez is likely here to stay for one more season and that’s a good thing.