After months of wishing for significant MLB Hot Stove movement so the winter didn’t seem so excruciating, the floodgates have officially opened.
With big league teams reporting to Spring Training over the past week, a flurry of free-agent signings have followed. It’s almost as if everyone got tired of waiting and just wanted as normal of a spring as possible. Weird, right?
When talking about the top of this winter’s free agent class, Yu Darvish was the first big domino to fall upon signing with the Chicago Cubs. Eric Hosmer followed suit by taking on a new challenge with the San Diego Padres. And now, we can add slugger J.D. Martinez to this list, who has finally agreed to terms with the Boston Red Sox on a five-year, $110 million deal (which includes a pair of opt-outs).
It was clear to see since the earliest parts of the winter that these two both needed each other — Boston was last in the American League with regard to home runs and ISO, while Martinez slugged 45 homers in just 489 plate appearances last year.
Super-agent Scott Boras never seems to make things easy, but the Red Sox held their ground based on the situation and were finally rewarded for not budging from it.
The Cautionary Tales
Let’s be real, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen one of the game’s best sluggers enter free agency in search of a long-term contract that’ll start with their age-30 campaign following a monster year. We’ve actually seen this quite a bit, and when those players did get monster deals in the past, they typically didn’t end well.
Probably the most interesting comparison we could draw from in recent years is Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles. He was a late-bloomer as a player that enjoyed a stellar final year before entering free agency, as well (149 wRC+, .300 ISO, 47 home runs, 117 RBI, and 5.7 fWAR in 670 plate appearances).
Also a client of Scott Boras that would be entering his age-30 season in the first year of his new contract, he didn’t re-sign with the Orioles until the middle of January, but received a seven-year, $161 million guarantee. It’s still a little early to pass judgment on the agreement, but each of his first two seasons under this new deal haven’t been nearly as good as that 2015 campaign.
Is he already descending from the peak of his prime or can he recapture some of that magic in his bat? Time will tell, but either way, Baltimore is stuck with a huge financial commitment until Davis’ age-36 season in 2022.
Every front office has seen these things happen, and it’s part of the reason why this past winter was so slow in free agency — they’re viewing and valuing players different.
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No Real Market (That We Knew of)
Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox were in the best possible position for these negotiations because Martinez didn’t seem to generate any legitimate interest around the league.
Would just about any team take a player with his offensive ability? Well, of course, but the initial asking price of seven years and $210 million certainly limited him to the few big league teams that can afford such a contract. Boston desperately needed a bat like Martinez’s in the middle of their lineup, but they were the only team with the ability to make a substantial financial commitment — that we knew of.
The Arizona Diamondbacks were interested in re-signing their very successful midseason acquisition, but without much payroll flexibility (thanks, Zack Greinke), finding middle ground on a long-term deal always seemed like a stretch. And clearly, it was so much of a stretch that even Boras couldn’t convince the Red Sox it was worth driving up the price of their reported offer.
If this sounds similar to Davis’ situation again, you’d be right. In the winter approaching the 2016 season, he was the only free agent that possessed elite power at the plate, but he didn’t really have much of a legitimate market for his services outside of a couple teams. The Orioles probably didn’t have to enhance their offer at all, but it happened and ultimately got the deal done.
Dombrowski saw Martinez’s lack of serious long-term interest and didn’t budge. It took longer to get a deal done, but he got him at the total financial guarantee he was likely most comfortable with.
Something That Works for Everyone
Did Boras ultimately fall short with what he hoped to get his client? He surely wasn’t expecting to get near that initial $210 million asking price, but he probably wasn’t figuring the end number would be $100 million lower.
Still, though, this is a pretty sweet deal for the right-handed slugger. Martinez gets the chance to opt out after both his second and third seasons in Boston, so he could hypothetically re-enter the market if he wants. Furthermore, the compensation is front-loaded, with $50 million in the first two years and $22 million in the third.
It’s not as if he’s sacrificing much average annual value in the first half of this deal. Boston also pays top dollar for what will likely be his better years in Beantown. Even if he doesn’t eventually opt out, the Red Sox won’t be strapped with a huge salary past Martinez’s age-34 season.
Dombrowski knew he had to make a significant investment to get the bat his squad needed. While there’s plenty of risk in giving $100-plus million to a power hitter no longer in his 20s and with limited defensive abilities, he did a great job of mitigating that risk as much as possible while finding creative ways to add value outside of money.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s also written a book about how to become a sports blogger. You can sign up for his email newsletter here.