J.D. Martinez likes to order up a hearty cheeseburger before the Red Sox go out for batting practice and happily digs in, often while sitting at his locker.
I asked him one day if he had a favorite burger joint among the many that have sprung up in and around Boston the last few years.
Martinez laughed and said he never goes anywhere other than from his home to Fenway Park and back.
“I’m boring,” he said.
It’s true. Martinez spends more time at the ballpark than most players, arriving early to study scouting reports on opposing pitchers and take several rounds of batting practice.
It’s a routine that made him one of the best hitters in baseball the last six seasons.
It also helps explain why Martinez won’t be swayed by emotion if agent Scott Boras advises him to opt out of his contract. The Red Sox were his employers, not a place where he made a home.
Martinez has until five days after the World Series to decide whether to stay with the Sox or become a free agent. He has three seasons and $62.5 million left on his deal with the Sox.
Ultimately it’s a $60 million decision, as Martinez would get a $2.5 million bonus if he opts out. He also has an opt-out clause following the 2020 season if he stays.
Martinez has played for four teams in his nine seasons in the majors, three in the last three years. Once the Houston Astros released him in 2014, Martinez understood that loyalty in baseball was a fleeting concept.
He’ll do what’s right for his bottom line, as well he should. When the Red Sox signed Martinez before the 2018 season, they held up the deal for a week to negotiate the right to void his deal in case an old foot injury came back. They had the power then and he has it now.
Martinez’s decision will determine how the Red Sox proceed with the rest of their offseason. He is due $23.75 million in 2020 and if that money comes off the books, the Sox should be able to retain Mookie Betts for at least one more season.
If Martinez stays, there would seem to be little chance the Sox also could keep Betts and meet ownership’s goal of getting under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold.
Team president Sam Kennedy said last week that it’s possible for the Sox to keep both Betts and Martinez. But that scenario would likely mean finding a taker for David Price’s contract or tearing up other parts of the roster.
So Red Sox fans are left with an unusual dilemma: Do you actually root for a player who had a .985 OPS and 79 home runs over the last two seasons to skip town?
Boras and Martinez also have a tough call. Walking away from $60 million only makes sense if you’re absolutely convinced you can get more somewhere else.
Boras is a firm believer that a player can only determine his true worth in free agency. But coming up with a team that would give Martinez more than $60 million isn’t easy, especially in a market that has been cold toward aging position players the last two seasons.
Plus the Red Sox are likely to saddle Martinez with a qualifying offer, which adds the loss of a draft pick to his cost.
Cross off the 15 National League teams. Martinez started only 37 games in the outfield this season and looked like he was playing on skates when he did go out there.
Martinez had some rough moments defensively, including a misplayed fly ball at Seattle on March 31 that led to five unearned runs scoring.
He graded out to minus-seven defensive runs saved in only 211 innings.
Arizona was comfortable with Martinez in the outfield for the 10 weeks he was there in 2017. But he’s 32 now, making a long-term deal more of a risk.
Martinez can play outfield on occasion but he’s a designated hitter at this stage of his career. He missed eight games this season because of four incidents of back spasms. Two of those were attributed to having played the outfield.
The American League has some options, but not as many as you think.
The Red Sox would be out. The Yankees have Giancarlo Stanton signed through 2027. Forget them.
Rebuilding teams like the Orioles, Royals, and Tigers aren’t at a point where an expensive DH makes sense. The Rays spread their DH starts among 11 players this season.
The Indians have Franmil Reyes and Shohei Ohtani is in place with the Angels. The Twins hold a $12 million option on Nelson Cruz and are likely to pick that up after his outstanding season. Oakland invested in Khris Davis in April. Houston is all set with its offense.
That leaves the Blue Jays, Mariners, Rangers, and White Sox. All four of those teams can afford Martinez and need him.
Martinez also would be a good influence in the clubhouse with those teams and in particular their young players. His devotion to hitting had a significant impact on the Red Sox.
Having Martinez on the roster is like adding a bilingual coach you can be sure the players will listen to. Boras can sell that to an owner if Martinez’s statistics somehow aren’t enough.
Texas has one more year (and $21 million) tied up in Shin-Soo Choo. But adding Martinez as they move into a new ballpark would create a splash.
The Blue Jays, Mariners, and White Sox need something to become more relevant. Martinez adds instant credibility.
A Toronto lineup with Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio, Lourdes Gurriel Jr., Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Martinez is compelling.
The same would be true in Chicago with Tim Anderson, Eloy Jimenez, and Yoan Moncada. Assuming Jose Abreu returns as a free agent, that’s a strong group.
The White Sox had a league-worst .641 OPS from the DH spot this season.
Designated hitters had a .199 batting average for Seattle and were particularly dreadful once Edwin Encarnacion was traded to the Yankees.
It’s not a perfect list, but Martinez only needs one team to give him $10 million or so more than he would have received from the Red Sox.
The White Sox, who have to do something to get out from under the shadow of the Cubs, are a good bet.
So say goodbye to Martinez. It was a good two seasons.
And J.D.? Tasty Burger is a minute away from the back door of the clubhouse. Try it next time you’re in town.