J.D. Martinez decided to remain with the Red Sox on Monday night, declining to opt out of his contract and become a free agent.
That should be news worth celebrating. The 32-year-old Martinez hits for power and average, is a good influence on the work ethic of younger teammates, and has created an impenetrable bubble to filter out the distractions that can come with playing in Boston.
The key to the 2018 championship was Martinez giving the Sox a presence in the middle of the lineup that was missing after David Ortiz retired in 2016.
Martinez is also a relative bargain at $23.75 million next season, when you consider the now-regrettable deals for power hitters such as Miguel Cabrera, Chris Davis, and Albert Pujols.
He’s been perfect for the Red Sox when you add it all up.
But would it have been even better had he bailed out? Talk about first-world problems.
Martinez’s entire salary for 2020 will count toward how Major League Baseball calculates payroll for the purposes of the luxury tax. It’s actually $1.75 million more than it was last season.
That complicates the already-difficult task new chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has to trim what has become a bloated payroll.
Ownership has made it a goal to cut the payroll below $208 million and reset the penalties the Sox have been paying for two seasons. It’s not a mandate, but goals tend to become mandates when the people in charge are the ones setting the goal.
One quick way to cut would be to trade Mookie Betts, who is in line to make approximately $28 million next season.
As good as Martinez has been, Betts is a better all-around player. The Red Sox lose in that calculus.
CEO Sam Kennedy said in October it would be possible to keep both Betts and Martinez and get under $208 million. But that would almost surely require trading a number of other players and having Betts and Martinez sopping up a quarter of the payroll.
Betts can become a free agent after next season and seems determined to do just that. As good as he is, it will be difficult to find a taker for $28 million and give up prospects anywhere close to approximately his value.
The Tampa Bay Rays made assorted bloodless moves when Bloom was their second in command, knowing their tiny fan base could howl only so loud. Bloom has been on the job for a week now and surely understands that trading Betts is not how he wants to start his tenure.
The best move you can make with Betts is spending the next year trying to negotiate an extension.
Trading Martinez is a better option. His salary would be easier for a team — say, the White Sox? — to absorb. While the return for a player who is essentially a designated hitter wouldn’t restock the farm system, it would help add a few pieces.
Plenty of teams would be eager to have shortstop Xander Bogaerts and his affordable deal. But that would be wholly unfair to an organizational favorite who insisted that agent Scott Boras negotiate an extension last March. So don’t do that.
Another thought: Trade Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley. That would save roughly $16 million. Convert infielder Michael Chavis to left, switch Betts to center, and find a low-cost right fielder.
Then take 50 cents on the dollar and trade either David Price or Chris Sale, knowing you won’t get much in return. They would get you $15 million off the books. Then count on Bloom to creatively fill out the rotation.
If the Sox can hold onto Betts, Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Chavis, Christian Vazquez, and either Benintendi or Bradley, that’s the base of a good lineup.
Try rookie slugger Bobby Dalbec at first base and Marco Hernandez at second.
Or there’s this: Keep the gang together and pay high luxury taxes for one more season. If you’re convinced Price, Sale, and Nate Eovaldi are healthy, take a run at a second title in three years.
But the Yankees and Dodgers got under the threshold because it’s ultimately to the team’s advantage in the long run. The Sox can’t keep this money train running forever.
Besides, they hired Bloom to find a better way to improve the team than writing more checks.
However it plays out, Martinez coming back made what was already sure to be an eventful offseason even more compelling.