Xander Bogaerts sought and received reassurance that he will remain with the Red Sox beyond the trade deadline. The same cannot be said of J.D. Martinez.
Martinez gets the drill. Unlike Bogaerts, who has spent his entire professional career (nearly 13 years) in one organization, the 34-year-old Martinez has seen the other side of the industry. He was released by the Astros in the spring of 2014, traded by the Tigers to the Diamondbacks as a free-agent-to-be in 2017, signed with the Red Sox in the spring of 2018, and has spent time in each of the last three offseasons deciding whether it made sense to opt out of his contract.
Given that reality, he considers being traded before this year’s deadline a possibility — and even a likelihood, particularly if the Red Sox don’t reverse their considerable slide.
“I’ve been in this game too long,” Martinez said about whether he’d sought clarity from the front office. “The Red Sox are a first-class organization, but the industry in total, it’s a business. At the end of the day, it’s a business and everyone’s going to treat it that way. So I don’t get involved in that. I kind of just focus on what I can control, who I’m facing on the mound.
“Like the Drake song, ‘There’s no friends in the industry.’ It’s true. It’s just the business. It’s a hard situation. I understand it.”
Does Martinez believe he’ll be with the Red Sox after Tuesday?
“Not if we don’t start winning. That’s about as simple as I can put it,” Martinez said Thursday, prior to his team’s 4-2 win over Cleveland. “I would understand it. I wouldn’t be upset about it. Of course I want to be here, stay here. I’m a lot more comfortable here. I would prefer the club wins today, starts a winning streak, and makes it real hard on them.”
Even a winning streak might not be enough to prevent Martinez from being dealt. According to industry sources, there is a good likelihood that the Red Sox will deal Martinez — who is in the final season of a five-year, $110 million deal — regardless of their performance leading up to the deadline.
One American League executive opined that Martinez is “as good as gone,” even if the Sox remain in the thick of the wild-card race.
What would be the logic of dealing Martinez if the Sox hope to contend?
He has provided solid but unspectacular production this year, hitting .289/.356/.461with nine homers and 30 doubles in 83 games — good enough to earn his fourth All-Star nod in five years with the Sox, but not the same power threat he’s been in prior years.
“I do believe that the first few months of the season, regardless of what people think of our numbers, it was kind of like the best version I’d seen of him, hitting the ball consistently on a nightly basis,” said manager Alex Cora. “At the end, the OPS is always there, it’s always been.
“He was doing it a different way, hitting doubles, hitting rockets to right field. His swing decisions at one point during the season, they were on point, and then he got off. I think he was just trying to create [power] or it was just part of the season.
“But I think overall, regardless of the homers, he was really, really good for two months, two months and a half. He’s been really good for us.”
Yet Martinez has struggled to regain his timing since his return from a back injury that sidelined him the first four days after the All-Star break, going 0 for 14 with two walks.
“Seven days with the back thing kind of messed up my timing,” said Martinez. “[After] the All-Star break, it couldn’t have been a worse time to take another four days.”
Meanwhile, his inability to play the field — he has not worn a glove in a game this year — has been a roster limitation, particularly with the Sox managing the health of players such as Rafael Devers and Bogaerts while trying to keep them in the lineup.
If the Sox trade Martinez and acquire a player who could help in the field, they could use the DH spot to manage the playing time of their overall roster. In that sense, Martinez may be in a different category than other free-agents-to-be such as Nate Eovaldi and Christian Vázquez.
The Sox perhaps can imagine a world in which their pitching and defense improve drastically. Eovaldi and Garrett Whitlock are back, Rich Hill and Michael Wacha aren’t far away, James Paxton could enter the equation at some point, and Trevor Story’s transformative defense could re-enter the equation soon.
As for dealing Martinez, two factors are in play. The first is the return. A year ago, the Twins landed starter Joe Ryan from the Rays for a half-season of DH Nelson Cruz. Martinez’s production this year doesn’t match that of Cruz in 2021, but his track record suggests that dealing him could contribute to the Sox’ ongoing efforts to deepen their organizational talent.
The second is financial. Martinez is owed roughly $6.75 million over the rest of the season. If the Sox deal him and another pending free agent or two, their payroll for 2022 could dip back below the $230 million luxury tax threshold — theoretically putting them in a position to spend more aggressively heading into 2023.
One AL source suggested Friday it appears the Sox are preparing to deal Martinez and other role players. If Martinez is dealt, he certainly won’t be blindsided.
On Thursday afternoon, Martinez sat in the grandstands at Fenway for a video shoot. But the slugger made a point of taking a moment to appreciate the surroundings and what has been his baseball home since 2018, mindful that he may soon change addresses.
No matter what, he recognizes that he’ll be with a team that has playoff aspirations. He’d love that to be the Sox.
“[Contending is] what we play for,” he said. “I love it. Obviously, I think it’s a great position to be in. It drives you, especially, when you’re in that hunt, baseball is fun. If you’re not playing for anything, it’s tough.
“When you’re in it, the excitement, the fans, the energy, the team’s energy — it’s fun. This year, we’ve been in it the whole time. We’re one week away from being right in it. But, it is what it is.”