Spring training camps open in Florida and Arizona this week, though several prominent free agents remain unsigned, including slugger J.D. Martinez. Martinez and others have fallen victim to a brutally slow free agent market. With few exceptions, teams simply have not been willing to spend this offseason.
A year ago Martinez, 30, authored a .303/.376/.690 (166 OPS+) batting line with 45 home runs in only 119 games split between the Detroit Tigers and the Arizona Diamondbacks. He became the first player in MLB history to hit 45 homers in fewer than 120 games. Martinez also won't cost a draft pick to sign since he was ineligible for the qualifying offer after being traded. And yet, he remains unsigned. Pretty wild.
For much of the offseason the Boston Red Sox have been considered the favorites to sign Martinez because he is an obvious fit for their lineup, and because he and president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski know each other from their time in Detroit. The BoSox have reportedly made Martinez a nine-figure offer. Still no progress in talks, as far as we know.
The D-Backs remain interested in re-signing Martinez and, according to Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports, the club is trying to come up with creative ways to broker a deal. From Heyman:
Sources suggest that the D-Backs have broached "creative" ways to keep Martinez ... While it isn't known specifically what "creative" means, it is believed that the D-backs are considering a higher AAV (average annual value) and shorter term with opt-outs included. This could be one way to bridge the gap in overall dollars.
The fact Martinez is still unsigned is a surprise -- the same is true of Eric Hosmer, Lance Lynn, Mike Moustakas, and many other free agents -- and it is a bit of a gift to the D-Backs, who still have an opportunity to bring him back. Coming into the offseason, I know I figured it was only a matter of time until some team blew Martinez way with an offer. It hasn't happened.
Because of that, the D-Backs unexpectedly still have an opportunity to re-sign Martinez even as spring training opens. There are four reasons they should jump on this opportunity.
The Red Sox are dragging their feet
Reports indicate the Red Sox have made Martinez a healthy nine-figure offer, though apparently it does not meet Martinez's expectations, and it is clearly below what he'd get in previous offseasons. In the past, we'd be talking about him as a $150-million player. Easy.
Within that: According to multiple major league sources, Sox' 5-year offer to Martinez remains closer to $100M than $125M. Team continues to covet him, but remains determined not to bid against itself. https://t.co/alXHgCi3rh via @BostonGlobe— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) February 13, 2018
The Red Sox do not want to bid against themselves and that's smart. There are still six weeks to go before Opening Day, so there's no urgency to get Martinez signed right now so he can be in the Opening Day lineup. Boston can continue to be patient.
However, that approach also means the Red Sox are giving the D-Backs (or another team) a chance to swoop in with an offer, and steal Martinez away. They're leaving the door open ever so slightly. Martinez is said to have enjoyed his time in Arizona last season, so if the D-Backs make a good offer, he might jump on it without giving the BoSox a chance to match. Point is, the longer the Red Sox play it slow, the better it is for the D-Backs.
The D-Backs need another bat
A year ago the D-Backs scored 812 runs, fourth most in the NL, and that was with only 62 games of Martinez. Their projections for 2018, which include Yasmany Tomas replacing Martinez in the lineup, aren't nearly as good:
The projections are probably too close to the middle of the pack for Arizona's liking, especially since they play in the hitter-friendly home ballpark. Yes, Martinez would cost the D-Backs runs in the outfield with his defense, but he more than makes up for it with his bat. Swapping Tomas out of the lineup for Martinez would put Arizona among the league's top offensive teams.
Arizona's window is as open as it's going to get
As far as I'm concerned, this is the single biggest reason for the D-Backs to re-sign Martinez. Their best chance to win is right now. Not two or three years down the line. Consider when their core players will become free agents:
- After 2018: Patrick Corbin, A.J. Pollock
- After 2019: Paul Goldschmidt, Shelby Miller, Chris Owings
- After 2020: Jake Lamb, David Peralta, Robbie Ray, Taijuan Walker
Furthermore, Zack Greinke is still in whatever is left on his prime, and Baseball America recently ranked the team's farm system 25th in baseball. The core won't be together much longer and there's not much help coming from within.
When you're a small-to-mid payroll team like the D-Backs, success can be fleeting, so when you have an opportunity to win, you'd better take it. Worrying about tomorrow isn't always conducive to winning today, and for Arizona, the window to win with this group is clearly defined. Better do it now before Goldschmidt can test the free agent market and Greinke begins to decline.
The Dodgers are as vulnerable as they're going to get
I feel like this isn't be talked about enough: The Los Angeles Dodgers went to Game 7 of the World Series last season, and they are cutting payroll by approximately $56 million this season. $56 million! Los Angeles is determined to get under the $197 million luxury tax threshold to reset their tax rate, putting them in position to spend big in the future.
The luxury tax plan has already cost the Dodgers a chance to re-sign Yu Darvish and trade for Giancarlo Stanton, both of whom made it very well known they'd love to be with the team long-term. Not only that, but the payroll limit means the Dodgers won't be in great position to take on salary at the trade deadline. Not without dumping salary elsewhere first, and that is not easy to do.
Chasing down the Dodgers in the NL West won't be easy regardless of their payroll, but their roster is a bit weaker than last year, and they don't have as much money to paper over injuries and poor performances. Next year though, once the luxury tax rate is reset, all bets are off. The Dodgers will be in better position to spend freely and dominate baseball.
If the Dodgers slide back for any reason this year, the D-Backs want to be in position to capitalize. Martinez would help them do that. Heck, even if the Dodgers don't take a step back, Martinez would give Arizona a better chance to beat Los Angeles in the postseason, should they meet again. It might be a long time before the Dodgers are this vulnerable again.
The Greinke contract shows that, when they really want to, the D-Backs can go out and win a bidding way. Every team has gobs of money, even the smaller payroll teams. They're just really good at acting like they don't have money. Martinez is sitting out there waiting to be signed, and given their current situation -- the clock is ticking on their core, the Dodgers look potentially beatable, etc. -- the D-Backs should swoop in to re-sign him before the Red Sox decide to up their offer.