J.D. Martinez peeked to the right of his microphone and into a flock of reporters. He then took a glance to the opposite side of the mic. In front of him was a camera that would capture each of his movements. Martinez’s head quickly darted back to his right side, surveying the crowd yet again. Still no luck.
“Where’s he at?” said Martinez, seated at a podium during his All-Star media availability Monday. “I just saw him.”
It took just moments into his news conference for questions surrounding the opt-out in his contract with the Red Sox at the end of the season to emerge, and he wanted to find the person who could speak best on it: agent Scott Boras. Finally, he found his guy.
“Oh, there he is right there. You see?” Martinez said.
Boras stood in the middle of his own media scrum in a navy blue suit. Reporters stayed put at Martinez’s podium for the time being, but the message was clear: Boras will spearhead this process surrounding Martinez.
“I just listen to him,” Martinez said. “That’s what I pay him for. He gives me his opinion. He gives me his advice and it’s up to me after that to make my decision. We’re really not there yet, but he’s giving me his opinion and advice.”
If Martinez does elect free agency after the 2019 season, he would leave $62.5 million on the table. He also has an opt-out at the end of 2020 — the third of his five-year deal — allowing him even more flexibility, Boras said. Yet Martinez remained adamant he wanted to stay with the Sox.
“Boston’s been my favorite team since I was a kid,” Martinez said. “I always dreamt of being there and loved the family side of it and how they treat the players. It’s just a first-class organization”
He’s beloved in the clubhouse, too, amongst the younger guys — especially when it comes to hitting.
“I remember last year, it was his first year and everyone wanted to go to J.D. for advice. Even me a couple times,” Xander Bogaerts said. “Whenever stuff isn’t going right, you either go to the hitting coach or you go to J.D. He’s definitely changed a lot of us on this team with the mind-set and the advice. He’s definitely huge.”
From a market value standpoint, opting out at this point could be tough. As teams become more analytically driven, players aren’t paid for what they’ve done, but what they might do. Martinez is one of the better hitters in the game.
He comes out of the All-Star break with a .304 batting average, 18 homers, and a .918 OPS but still says he doesn’t quite feel himself in the box. That speaks to how good he is.
But he also has to consider the market under the current collective bargaining agreement, with a noticeable number of free agents struggling to find work. Martinez also will be a 32-year-old DH, which might be reason enough to stay put. And although baseball has flirted with adding the DH to the National League, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that a change is not coming anytime soon.
“I think it’s probably a 2021 issue before anything else meaningful happens,” Manfred said. “I do not think that the [DH in both leagues] is inevitable. It depends on how the bargaining unfolds and how my politics develop on that one. I’m not quite sure where I am on that one.”
Without a universal DH, Martinez, who also plays the corner outfield positions, would have limited options.
Boras, however, tried to put things in perspective.
“He’s a guy who can DH and play an outfield position,” he said. “He can play a number of roles other than DH for the team, and when you go look at DH production, he gives you not only slugging [percentage] he gives you average and on-base. He’s a weapon that no teams have.”
Boras mentioned they will sit down with Red Sox front office and evaluate what both sides want to do. Yet a new market really won’t hit until the CBA is reworked after the 2021 season. By that time, it would be a year past Martinez’s final opt-out.
Boras countered that.
“J.D. is different,” he said. “The age component is no different than David Ortiz. David Ortiz’s age did not affect his performance because he was David Ortiz. So, when you go through all of this and look at it, maybe you can say that the 31-, 32-year-old player doesn’t get the 10-year contract, but on the other hand it has nothing to do with what his average annual value will be because that production is so rare.”
Martinez, like the Red Sox, is still trying to find it at the plate this season, a year after he hit .330 with 43 homers, 130 RBIs, and a 1.031 OPS. He mentioned the season has been a grind by his standards. Boras agreed, but had this final note to offer.
“It’s been a grind. But remember where he’s sitting,” Boras said. He paused and then pointed to Martinez, 20 feet away from him. “He’s an All-Star.”
Julian McWilliams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.