As is often the case with World Series winners, last year was an "everything went right" year for the Boston Red Sox. Their best players were at their best, their role players stepped up in a big way, their trade deadline additions were exactly what the doctor ordered, and they stayed mostly healthy. It was an all-around great year for the BoSox.
Free agent pickup J.D. Martinez had an MVP caliber 2018 season, hitting .330/.402/.629 with 43 home runs while leading MLB with 130 RBI and 358 total bases. That earned him a fourth-place finish in the American League MVP voting, and his 6.4 WAR was truly outstanding for a player who spent more games at DH (93) than in the field (57).
This year Martinez has been very good but not truly dominant, and I suppose that's one reason the Red Sox are fading out of the postseason race. Going into Wednesday's game, Martinez had lost 30 points off his batting average, 25 points off his on-base percentage, and 88 points off his slugging percentage. Going from a .629 slugging to a .541 slugging with the juiced ball? Eek.
The Red Sox signed Martinez to a five-year contract worth $110 million prior to last season and the contract includes a series of opt-out clauses that begin to come into play this winter. Here is Martinez's contract structure:
- 2018: $23.75 million
- 2019: $23.75 million
- 2020: $23.75 million (or $2.5 million buyout if Martinez opts out following 2019)
- 2021: $19.375 million (or no buyout if Martinez opts out following 2020)
- 2022: $19.375 million
Should he opt out following this season, Martinez would walk away from three years and $62.5 million. Given the buyout, it is effectively a $60 million decision. Here's what Martinez told WEEI.com's Rob Bradford about the opt-out decision last month:
"For me, I just listen to him. That's what I pay him for," Martinez said, referencing his agent Scott Boras. "He gives me his opinion, he gives me his advice and it's up to me after that to make my decision. We're really not there yet, where he's given me his opinion and his advice. So I think we have to see how it plays out."
This is very straightforward decision for Martinez and Boras. Do they believe they can beat $60 million on the open market? If yes, then he should opt out, or at least leverage the opt-out clause into an extension with the Red Sox. If not, then he should stick with his current contract and take the guaranteed $60 million.
Keep in mind free agency is very player-unfriendly right now. It has been for two years. Martinez hit 45 home runs in 119 games in 2017 and still had to wait until late February 2018 to sign as a free agent. He's is a soon-to-be 32-year-old most-of-the-time DH with an injury history, and his numbers, while still good, have gone south.
- 2018: 93.0 mph average exit velocity and 52.4 percent hard-hit rate
- 2019: 92.0 mph average exit velocity and 46.3 percent hard-hit rate
Barring a monster late-season surge -- a surge Martinez is absolutely capable of putting together -- the expectation here is that Martinez will not opt out of his contract this winter. Even with Boras as his agent. It's tough to see a DH on the wrong side of 30 landing more than $60 million guaranteed in this market, even a DH as good as Martinez.
Because of that, Martinez drops out of our 2019-20 MLB Free Agent Power Rankings this month. I ranked him among the top free agents in previous months largely because of his track record, and because I expected his stats to approach his 2018 output in time. It hasn't happened. Now that we're in August, I think it's time to assume Martinez will not opt into free agency.
As a reminder, 11 would-be free agents signed extensions earlier this year that took them off the market. Some pretty big names too. Here are those 11 players, listed in order of contract guarantee:
- 3B Nolan Arenado, Rockies: 8 years, $260 million.
- LHP Chris Sale, Red Sox: 5 years, $145 million.
- 1B Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals: 5 years, $130 million.
- SS Xander Bogaerts, Red Sox: 6 years, $120 million plus one option.
- OF Aaron Hicks, Yankees: 7 years, $70 million plus one option.
- RHP Miles Mikolas, Cardinals: 4 years, $68 million.
- RHP Justin Verlander, Astros: 2 years, $66 million.
- 3B Matt Carpenter, Cardinals: 3 years, $39 million.
- DH Khris Davis, Athletics: 2 years, $33.75 million.
- RHP Sonny Gray, Reds: 3 years, $30.5 million plus one option.
- RHP Ryan Pressly, Astros: 2 years, $17.5 million plus one option.
. Now that the trade deadline is over,it's time to get back on the horse. Here are our latest MLB Free Agent Power Rankings for the upcoming offseason.
Gerrit Cole Houston Astros SP
On May 22, Astros righty Gerrit Cole allowed six runs in five innings to the White Sox. In 14 starts since Cole has pitched to a 1.98 ERA with 126 strikeouts in 91 innings. He's held opponents to a .189/.248/.338 batting line and may have put himself at the front of the American League Cy Young conversation.
The Astros added Zack Greinke at the deadline and shortly thereafter owner Jim Crane indicated to reporters, including Brian McTaggart of MLB.com, that re-signing Cole could be difficult financially. Here's Crane:
It's important to remember Crane is a businessman, first and foremost. He's not going to come out and say "yep, we're going to pay whatever it takes to keep Cole," because that would kill the team's leverage. Cole is a Scott Boras client and you can be sure Boras is already putting together a plan to squeeze the Astros as much as possible.
Cole will be the best starting pitcher to hit free agency since at least Greinke and David Price during the 2015-16 offseason, and probably since Max Scherzer during the 2014-15 offseason. Patrick Corbin's six-year, $140 million contract is the floor here. Chances are Cole will beat $200 million this winter and ink a deal closer to Scherzer's seven-year, $210 million pact.
Previous rank: 1
Anthony Rendon Washington Nationals 3B
The offseason's top position player is having his best season to date. Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon owns a .314/.400/.598 batting line and his 24 home runs is one short of his career high with roughly eight weeks to play. Add in strong third base defense and you have an impact player who turned only 29 in June. The only downside here is Rendon has battled injuries throughout his career. That might (will) be held against him. Rendon is another Scott Boras client and I'm sure the asking price will be Arenado's eight-year, $260 million contract. The bet here is he settles for five or six years at $30 million per season, or thereabouts. The Nationals wouldn't let Rendon walk one year after losing Bryce Harper, would they?
Previous rank: 2
Madison Bumgarner San Francisco Giants SP
After a few rocky weeks to begin the season, Giants lefty Madison Bumgarner has started to look more and more like himself in recent weeks. His velocity is up, his strikeouts are up, and he's performing well against quality lineups. Given his career workload to date, it was easy to think Bumgarner might be heading for an early decline phase a la Felix Hernandez. Instead, the just turned 30-year-old southpaw looks as strong as he's looked at any point in the last three years. The Giants will undoubtedly slap the qualifying offer on Bumgarner and I suppose that could crush his market. My guess is San Francisco will eventually bring him back on a three or four-year contract approaching $20 million annually.
Previous rank: 8
Zack Wheeler New York Mets SP
The Mets did not trade Zack Wheeler at the deadline, meaning he is eligible for the qualifying offer, and that's a bad thing for free agents nowadays. More importantly, the 29-year-old right-hander has begun to turn his season around and he has shown the big velocity and big spin rate numbers teams love the last two seasons. The injury history is scary -- the recent shoulder-related stint on the injured list won't help matters -- and I believe that'll limit Wheeler's market a tad. Nathan Eovaldi's four-year, $68 million contract is a reasonable asking price for Wheeler and his representatives.
Previous rank: 6
Hyun-Jin Ryu Los Angeles Dodgers SP
We've just now entered August and Dodgers southpaw Hyun-Jin Ryu has already thrown more innings this season (135 2/3) than he has in any season since 2014, the year before he needed major shoulder surgery. Ryu has been off-the-charts good this year -- he leads all qualified starters in ERA (1.53), ERA+ (273), and walk rate (1.1 BB/9) -- and he's doing it with command of a deep arsenal and fearlessness, two traits that make him a decent bet to age well. Of course, the injury history is ugly, and will limit Ryu's earning potential. He will be 33 on Opening Day 2020 and I have a hard time believing he and the Dodgers won't work out a new contract at some point. It's a great fit for both sides. A shorter term high dollar deal (two years, $40 million?) may work best.
Previous rank: 5
Will Smith San Francisco Giants RP
Pressly's extension and Dellin Betances' injuries mean Giants closer Will Smith will be the best reliever on the free-agent market this winter, and it's not particularly close. He's been outstanding since returning from Tommy John surgery last year and is much more than a left-on-left matchup guy. Even as free agency has cooled overall, relievers are still getting paid, and Smith is poised to cash in big this winter. I would be surprised if Smith signs for less than three years and $10 million per year, even after factoring in the recent Tommy John surgery. He's so good and every contender will want him.
Previous rank: Not ranked
Yasmani Grandal Milwaukee Brewers C
I have a hard time pinning down Yasmani Grandal's free-agent stock. A switch-hitting catcher with good on-base skills and 20-plus home run power as well as great pitch-framing numbers should be in very high demand, especially when he will turn only 31 in November. He's still in his prime. All of that was true last winter, and Grandal still had to settle for a one-year contract with the Brewers. With no qualifying offer attached this time around, Grandal should do better. Three years with a total guarantee in the $40 million range seems doable.
Previous rank: 4
Cole Hamels Chicago Cubs SP
An oblique injury sent him to the injured list for a month, otherwise Cubs lefty Cole Hamels just keeps on keepin' on. Hamels will turn 36 in December and in a weird way, that could make him more attractive in free agency. He's signing a short-term contract, undoubtedly, and I think contenders will line up to add a quality veteran southpaw like Hamels to their rotation without tying up payroll long-term. Two years and $40 million is possible, or maybe even one year with a vesting option. I expect Hamels to be a very popular free agent this winter. High-end production on a short-term contract is hard to pass up.
Previous rank: 9
Dallas Keuchel Atlanta Braves SP
As expected, it took Dallas Keuchel a little time to get settled in with the Braves after signing in June. The home run bug has bit him -- to be fair, it's bitten pretty much everyone this year -- otherwise the ground ball rate remains sky-high, and Keuchel can still chew up innings at a league average-ish rate. His days of fronting a staff are probably over, but Keuchel remains a solid rotation option. With no qualifying offer attached this time around, something along the lines of Lance Lynn's three-year, $30 million contract is possible this winter.
Previous rank: Not ranked
Marcell Ozuna St. Louis Cardinals LF
Cardinals outfielder Marcell Ozuna has two things going for him: age and power. He turned only 29 in November and the power is real. There are days Ozuna will look like a five-tool megastar, and he's in his prime. It's a tantalizing combination. The Cardinals will slap the qualifying offer on Ozuna after the season, which can create headaches. Josh Reddick received four years and $52 million at a similar age and that seems appropriate for Ozuna. The qualifying offer could sabotage his market though.
Previous rank: 7
Next Five (alphabetically): Nicholas Castellanos, Cubs; Josh Donaldson, Braves; Didi Gregorius, Yankees; Jake Odorizzi, Twins; Yasiel Puig, Indians
Contract Options: For the purposes of these rankings we are assuming Chris Archer, Pirates ($9 million); Nelson Cruz, Twins ($12 million); Sean Doolittle, Nationals ($6.5 million); Corey Kluber, Indians ($17.5 million); Starling Marte, Pirates ($11.5 million); Jose Quintana, Cubs ($11.5 million); and Anthony Rizzo, Cubs ($14.5 million) will have their club options exercised. Also, in addition to Martinez, we are assuming Elvis Andrus, Rangers (three years, $43 million); Jake Arrieta, Phillies (one year, $20 million); Aroldis Chapman, Yankees (two years, $30 million); Yu Darvish, Cubs (four years, $81 million); Kenley Jansen, Dodgers (two years, $38 million); and Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (four years, $100 million) will not opt out of their contracts.