JD Martinez situation highlights confused Red Sox future at designated hitter
JD Martinez has arrived at a pivotal moment in Red Sox history. David Ortiz’s retirement and two quick playoff exits had left the Red Sox looking for a big bat to anchor the roster. They found one when Martinez agreed to a five-year, $110 million contract at the start of spring training in 2018.
All he did afterward was replicate Ortiz himself quite decently, finishing fourth in MVP voting in his first Red Sox season, making four All-Star teams and winning a World Series. Even though Mookie Betts won an MVP award in 2018, he credited Martinez for taking the pressure off him in training.
Martinez could be considered the greatest free agent signing in franchise history, depending on your opinion of Manny Ramirez’s off-pitch antics. But now that his contract is finally up, the Red Sox look set to take the designated hitter job in a new direction.
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Chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and manager Alex Cora hinted that the club would like to make the spot more athletic next year, following a game-wide trend away from one-dimensional thumpers. If that happens, they’ll end one of the biggest positional advantages they’ve had since Ortiz arrived in 2003.
“I really think it should be about what works for the club you’ve created,” Bloom said. “You talk about those two guys with David and JD, they’re two of the best that have done it in my career and when you have one of those guys it’s exceptional. There are also benefits to the other approach really looks at the staff and who you talk to.”
For almost five years, Martinez represented the ideal person. Although his final season in a Red Sox uniform failed with just 16 homers and weeks of stretching as he barely threatened the trail on warning, overall he delivered exactly what Dave Dombrowski envisioned. .
“You blink and five years come and go,” Martinez said last week. “Lots of great memories here. Boston didn’t disappoint. Five years ago when I came here I knew it was an amazing organization and it exceeded my expectations. It’s been first class ever since I’m here, the fans are amazing.
“The media, as much as they give you a hard time here, you’re not that bad. It was fun. Great memories. A lot of these guys have never been on a team that has had so much talent, but no ego. Honestly, it was a blessing.
While there’s always a chance the Red Sox will offer Martinez a qualifying offer to secure draft compensation if he leaves for free agency, there’s also the risk that he’ll simply accept a one-year offer. in the $18-19 million range, and the team has more pressing needs to spend that kind of money than DH.
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“There’s always a way,” Martinez said. “It’s a Chaim question. Famous line, you know. It’s a Chaim question. You have to go ask him. There’s always a way. Right now I’m a free agent. We’ll see where the life will take me.”
The changes for the Red Sox would be significant. This season, only nine players have spent at least 81 games at DH, which has been used in both leagues, and that total included Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani, as well as MVP outfielder Bryce Harper, who moved to DH to accommodate an elbow injury. Ohtani is the only one to have completed 22 home runs.
Compare that to a decade ago, when seven AL teams fielded full-time DHs and four of them topped 22 home runs, led by Adam Dunn and Edwin Encarnacion with more than 40 apiece.
Now the trend is for more versatility, with multiple players sharing the spot to serve as an off-court day.
“One of the things that we keep talking about where the game is going is more athletic,” Cora said. “Defending is important. But where the game is going with the new rules, we have to take advantage of certain situations. I think at times we’ve been blocked offensively this year, not just because we haven’t hit the ball from the stadium, but managing the basics and taking advantage of certain situations was not there.
“We’ve been talking about it for a month or a month and a half. I hope we have a more dynamic and athletic club next year where we can not only count on the long ball and the doubles, but we can enjoy the game. “
That would seem to rule out Martinez’s return, in which case he’s not complaining about his time here.
“It’s a business,” he said. “I understand. I’m the first to understand that. That’s why I take criticism well. I understand it. Whatever happens, it will happen in the future.”