clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

J.D. Martinez is the best hitter on the free agent market

The best hitter of the 2017-2018 free agent class is available to sign, and all your team needs to do is spend.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Arizona Diamondbacks Jennifer Stewart-USA TODAY Sports

No one will remember this, but there was a time this year when no one cared about J.D. Martinez. The trade deadline was approaching, the Tigers knew they had to deal him, and the response from the baseball world was a booming, echoing “Meh.” With, like, seven “h”s. He was off to a great start, but all of the contenders had full outfields. No one could make room, and it allowed the Diamondbacks to swoop in with an underwhelming trade package.

Then Martinez hit 29 home runs in 62 games. He hit more homers after joining the Diamondbacks on July 19 than anyone on the Giants, Phillies, Red Sox, or Cardinals hit all year. He was one of the greatest deadline acquisitions in history, joining a pantheon that includes CC Sabathia, Randy Johnson, Carlos Beltran, and Marco Scutaro. Even though the Diamondbacks were eliminated in the NLDS, the undeniable excitement and electricity Martinez brought to Chase Field, even for a couple months, made him one of the best trade acquisitions in franchise history.

Martinez probably had a lot of fun in Arizona. But if you’re thinking he’s willing to cut them a deal, check out the timing on this move:

The DAY before free agency, Martinez went into a phone booth and emerged with a cape shaped like Scott Boras. There is no clearer sign in the universe that a player is interested for the best deal for himself and his family. Boras’ pitch was that he got $161 million for Chris Davis, who was an inferior player. It’s an easy pitch, and now Martinez is looking for a contract that will make you stop what you’re doing, walk down to the corner store, pay for a drink, take a sip, and spit it out.

If a team is going to do that, I hope they’re not expecting Diamondbacks J.D. Martinez. Because, friends, it’s probably a touch unlikely for Martinez to hit 77 home runs in a full season, which was the pace he swatted them for his new team. Pay for Martinez to be the hitter he was before the trade.

Before the trade, he was pretty freaking good, of course.

We’re four seasons into the idea that J.D. Martinez is a really, really, really good hitter. More than that, a complete hitter. Hits for average. Takes a walk. Hits for power. He’s not exactly a tortoise on the bases, either. It’s always jarring to remember that Martinez is good enough to compete for a batting title one day, mostly because it’s so easy to conflate high strikeout totals with poor contact.

Let’s forget about his time with the Diamondbacks as much as possible, then, and focus on what he’s likeliest to do based on the rest of his career. Baseball-Reference has projections up, and they’re not based on someone’s secret computer algorithms. They’re based on nothing more than his last three years, with a little bit of an adjustment for age built in.

PA: 496
BA: .290
OBP: .358
SLG: .570
HR: 31

Reasonable. Very, very reasonable. Very, very reasonable and ultra-desirable, but those aren’t the numbers that Boras is using for his expected contract. He probably already has a three-ring binder titled “WHY J.D. MARTINEZ IS GOING TO BUILD THE WHOLE AIRPLANE OUT OF SECOND HALVES,” and he narrates the audiobook himself.

Now we get to the elephant in the room: Martinez’s defense. More like the elephant in the outfield, ha ha, just a little fielding humor, folks, but, seriously, Martinez’s numbers are ugly. It’s how a player with 46 homers in just 119 games can be worth just a little more than Dee Gordon last year, according to WAR. If you’re looking for a good breakdown of what’s wrong, Mike Petriello looked at the relevant data before last season. The range isn’t there, and the arm allows teams to run wild on him. Boras claims that the defensive stats aren’t accurate, but it’s not like the eyeballs tell a different story.

And don’t ignore the fact that he wears his sunglasses on the back of his head when he’s indoors, like a monster.

One year, $3 million. Final offer.

Anyway, our job here today is to look for which team makes the most sense, and which team is the logical favorite. Who is leading the J.D. Martinez sweepstakes?

The Ideal Fit

Maybe instead of ditching prospects and taking on an extra $100 million, the Giants could just, I don’t know, sign Martinez? As long as they’re looking to make a huge splash (pun definitely intended, considering that Martinez is one of the few right-handed hitters alive who could actually get a ball into the water), they should just spend the money on the dingers instead of trade and spend money on them. Won’t even cost them a draft pick.

Except the Giants want a better defender. They also have a rough time luring free agent hitters to play at AT&T Park on purpose. The Giants are also concerned with box-office appeal right now, as they’ve stopped selling every game out for the first time in years, which isn’t necessarily something that Martinez helps with. And while it seems like Giancarlo Stanton being 28 next year isn’t a big deal compared to Martinez’s 30, those are two prime years that come along with the huge contract, which makes a difference for a team that’s not really sure what their window really looks like right now. Stanton might help a team reset in 2022. Martinez is less likely to.

No, the ideal team is the Diamondbacks, who kinda got used to Martinez. If they have any hopes of chasing the Dodgers in the NL West, a full season of Goldschmidt and Martinez would help. Holy heck, is that a middle-of-the-order gauntlet.

Alas, with Zack Greinke’s contract and Goldschmidt’s impending free agency, it would appear that the Diamondbacks have less money to spend than any other team. If he would have chilled out and hit half as many homers, it probably would have helped them more for 2018, which is an odd twist.

The Likely

The Red Sox come up a lot here, and for good reason. That hypothetical question up there about the Giants — why trade for Stanton when Martinez costs nothing but money? — applies doubly so for the Red Sox. Not only do they have more shiny things that the Marlins might perseverate on in trade talks, but Stanton’s no-trade clause could make a deal a non-starter from the beginning. Better to dive into the deep end of the Boras lagoon and start doing laps.

The Cardinals might be an even better fit, though, if Stanton really does want to play on a coast. They have a little money to spend, and while they’re eternally developing outfielders who can hit .281/.347/.460 (not hyperbole), they don’t have anyone with that kind of power. If they’re interested in spending money, there isn’t a better fit than Martinez.

I’m always against the idea of the teams that are constantly linked to a single free agent, though. Everyone has linked Martinez to the Red Sox so much, the idea has lost some of its oomph. It’s like when we ranked Super Mario games last week. After about the fourth one, the word “super” looked like it was made up. Sooper. Soup her. Storpor. It lost all meaning. So it goes with rumors.

I’m looking at the FanGraphs post linked above about teams with payroll room, and I keep stopping on the Dodgers. Once they moved Chris Taylor to center and soured on Joc Pederson, the future of their outfield alignment took shape. They might try Pederson again, and they might hope that Andrew Toles takes some of the pressure off him. Or they might try to melt the offseason into a puddle of goo and then lap the goo up like a doberman. Getting to a Game 7 and losing it will do funny things for a team that spends a billion dollars on payroll every four years.

Prediction

Dodgers. Six years, $188 million. I know they’re looking to spend a little less in preparation of Clayton Kershaw opting out and Bryce Harper and Manny Machado becoming available, but the Seager/Bellinger/Taylor core is going to let them afford a whole lot of luxuries in the future. They’re just taking an advance on those luxuries now.

The Dodgers already had a fearsome lineup in the postseason. They’ll have no problem spending to get fearsomer.