J.D. Martinez, whose meticulous approach to every at-bat has made him one of baseball’s best hitters, has decided not to opt out of his five-year Red Sox contract that will pay him $23.75 million in 2020, according to a league source.
The decision means the Red Sox retain a player who hit better than .300 and more than 35 home runs each of the past two seasons, but complicates matters as the team tries to move toward its goal of getting the payroll below the luxury-tax threshold of $208 million in 2020.
Martinez, whose full $23.75 million salary will count toward the luxury-tax figure in 2020, also has opt-outs after the 2020 and 2021 seasons. He has three years and $62.5 million left on the deal he signed in 2018.
The decision also means that Martinez, 32, will not test the market, where he would have had to find a deal worth more than the remaining value of his contract to make it worth his while.
“J.D. has advised me that his decision is about assuring that he plays for a competitive team and wanting to continue to play in a place where he knows that he can be highly productive,” said Scott Boras, who represents Martinez.
The past two offseasons have seen some high-profile players wait a considerable time before signing. Former Red Sox reliever Craig Kimbrel stayed on the market until June before signing with the Chicago Cubs, and Padres infielder Manny Machado and Phillies outfielder Bryce Harper — who were both 26-year-old free agents — didn’t sign until spring training was underway.
Martinez has his share of experience with that, too.
Former president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski signed Martinez to a five-year, $110 million contract during spring training in 2018, and Martinez was one of the key pieces as the Red Sox won a team-record 108 games and then the World Series. He hit .330 with a 1.031 OPS while also driving in 130 runs and hitting 43 homers. He ranked second in baseball in both homers and batting average, and led the league in RBIs.
Though the Red Sox missed the playoffs in 2019 and Martinez didn’t replicate his 2018 campaign, his numbers were still formidable. He hit .304 with 36 homers and a .939 OPS and drove in 104 runs. Martinez’s home run total, OPS, and batting average all ranked in the top 10 in the American League.
“I don’t think he cares about the numbers,” Red Sox manager Alex Cora said in August. “I think he cares about the quality of at-bats. We know on a daily basis he will give you quality at-bats.”
The grind-them-out at-bats paid dividends for Martinez and had a trickle-down effect as he became a resource for teammates to lean on for advice at the plate. Martinez became something of an extension to the coaching staff.
“I remember last year, it was his first year and everyone wanted to go to J.D. for advice,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts said. “Even me a couple times. 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.”
Martinez said during the All-Star break that Boras would be a key voice.
“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.”
Martinez’s numbers at the plate are impressive, but his play in the outfield has been below average, which likely limits his market to American League teams. Since the start of 2016, he has posted minus-39 defensive runs saved in the outfield, and in 2019 he was minus-7 for the Red Sox. His ultimate zone rating was minus-4.8.
Martinez’s status was one of the two biggest offseason story lines for the Red Sox, along with the question of Mookie Betts’s future. Red Sox president Sam Kennedy has said it would be tough to keep both All-Stars as the team attempts to get under the luxury tax threshold.
Martinez’s tenure in Boston benefited both sides.
“It’s been great,” Martinez said. “I came here and won a World Series. That was the goal. It’s been awesome.”