J.D. Martinez was 4 for 5 with two home runs, two doubles, four RBIs and four runs scored for the Red Sox on Friday night in a 16-4 thrashing of the Angels that for now at least kept them on the periphery of the American League wild-card race.
But the undercurrent of his big night at the plate was more interesting than the standings.
Martinez is now hitting .310 with 27 home runs, 71 RBIs, and a brawny .952 OPS with 43 games remaining this season. It’s reasonable to think he will finish the year with 34 or 35 homers and close to 100 RBIs.
Is that enough to gamble with his future?
Martinez has the right to opt out of his contract after the World Series and become a free agent. Or he could hang onto the deal he has and collect $62.5 million over the next three seasons.
It’s an interesting dilemma, especially for a player who will turn 32 later this month.
Martinez is unquestionably one of the best hitters in the game. Since revamping his swing prior to the 2014 season, he has hit 198 home runs while maintaining a .307 batting average.
But he’s also primarily a designated hitter at this stage of his career. Martinez has started only 25 games in the outfield this season, none since July 19 when he badly misplayed a ball off the right-field wall at Camden Yards and Baltimore’s Richie Martin scored on what was ruled a triple and an error.
Martinez also has missed games on three occasions this seasons because of back spasms.
Plenty of teams could use a hitter like Martinez. But how many teams would be willing to pay him more than what the Red Sox are committed to for the next three seasons?
Agent Scott Boras said just a few weeks ago that Martinez is in the small group of players who can consistently hit for average and power and won’t lack for offers. That’s surely true.
He’s also an influential player in the clubhouse, his studious approach to hitting and work ethic rubbing off on teammates. Red Sox coaches joke about their sore arms from all the batting practice Martinez takes, even during games.
But name the team that will pay him $65 or $70 million for the next three seasons. And keep in mind the Red Sox will have the right to give Martinez a qualifying offer that will depress his value in the open market.
You can’t cross all 15 National League teams off the list. But it would certainly be risky to pay Martinez $65 or $70 million to play the outfield full-time.
Eliminate the Red Sox. Take out the Angels, who have Shohei Ohtani as their DH. The Yankees? They’re heavily invested in Giancarlo Stanton through 2027.
One option could be for the Red Sox to sweeten his deal a bit. Or just wait. Martinez has another opt-out after the 2020 season.
It’ll be a tough call for Boras. But that’s why Martinez pays Boras to make those decisions.
“I leave that to him,” he said. “We’ll see what happens.”
For now, the Sox will enjoy the services of one of the hottest hitters in baseball. Martinez has hit safely in eight consecutive games at 15 of 29 and has reached base in 18 straight games.
Going back 20 games, he has hit .425 with a 1.327 OPS. The notion that Martinez is having a down season is being steadily chipped away.
“We’ve been talking about him grinding,” manager Alex Cora said. “If you look at the numbers, if that’s grinding . . .”
Martinez is going so well that even his mistakes work out. He hammered a pitch to right field in the sixth inning that got over the head of Kole Calhoun on the warning track.
Martinez thought he had a home run and went into his trot. But when he rounded second, he saw third base coach Carlos Febles motioning for him to go back to the base.
“I was panicking,” Martinez said. “Around second and he’s looking at me and was yelling, ‘No, no, no’ with his hands up and I’m like, ‘What happened?’ ”
Martinez should have been tagged out but was able to dive back safely. The Sox went on to score five runs and blew the game open.
When Martinez came up again in the seventh he hit a no-doubt home run to right field and trotted safely around.
Martinez won’t look at his statistics until after the season ends.
“When I get home I sit back and say, ‘Dang, I had a pretty good year.’ That’s kind of how it is.”
When he does that this season, Martinez also will have to sit back and decide whether he wants to stick with the Red Sox.