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J.D. Martinez: The $200MM Man

Free Agency in baseball is a wild thing, never boring and often wildly overpaying aging veterans. Its always a good idea to have a good year in your final year before free agency, aka the walk year. Nothing brings home more money than having a spectacular contract year. Of all the Free Agents in the 2018 class none raised their stock more than slugger J.D. Martinez. The right handed outfielder played in just 119 games and put up a robust line of .303/.376/.690, 1.066 OPS, 166 OPS+, 45 HR, 104 RBI, 4.1 WAR.

This incredible year along with his sustained league leading power production since becoming a Detroit Tiger in 2014 has lead his superstar agent Scott Boras to demand a contract in excess of $200MM for his client. Every offseason is filled with Boras gems and his comments on Martinez are no exception.

With praise like that its no wonder so many stars hire Boras. His point is well taken, Martinez had a monster few months in Arizona hitting .303/.366/.741 with 29 homers in 62 games. Yes, so technically Boras is right, if he were to play at that pace all year he could be called J.D. Kong and sit atop the MLB Empire. I am not entirely sure if this fictional peak is inside his other fictional town called Playoffville. But lets be real, that is not going to happen in the real world, only in Boras fantasy lands. Every agent would praise Martinez for his power as he has stacked up among the games best the past 4 years. He ranks top 10 in HR, Isolated Power, slugging %, wRC+ and he has done this while playing less games vs his counterparts. There is a good argument to be made that Martinez has been a top 5 power hitter the last 5 years or has his agent suggests, he sits atop the Empire.

Of course every player has flaws and there are a few red flags with Martinez. At age 30 he isn’t too old where you won’t want to pay him for 5-6 years but getting $200MM will require potentially 7-8 years at salaries above $25MM per year. Teams are increasingly becoming weary of paying players in their later 30’s as players bodies break down and performance decreases. With most larger deals teams are willing to loose on the back end years in order to win with an elite player on the front of the deal.

On defense Martinez has been a very poor defender in the outfield and has been one of the worst in the league the past four seasons. This is not typical for a guy in his 20’s, which doesn’t lend hope for improvement as he ages. So any team signing him long term must know that he is more of a DH and not a RF, perhaps they can transition him to 1B but in reality he is a bat only player. That really knocks most NL teams out of a long term deal. This is the one major knock against Martinez which is why on metrics like WAR he shows as a good not elite player. He is not mulit-dimensional. Meaning he is an elite power bat but a negative on the bases, and on defense. Teams increasingly love players who provide value on numerous levels and have show less interest in power only players.

If he was even an average defender it would be easy to project him getting a monster deal but teams will be hard pressed to pay a DH upward of $30MM per season. If you look at Fangraphs  or other value projections research it has shown that 1 WAR is equal to about $8-$9MM in value. Martinez was worth about $30MM by Fangraphs last season and $114MM over the past 4 seasons. On that method, he has been worth nearly $29MM per season. Could you then project him to be worth $175-200+MM over the next 6-8 years? In theory if he kept up his current pace over the next 7-8 years he would be worth close to or above $200MM. However the biggest challenge teams are facing is that as he ages, he will slow down even further and his power skills will regress. Almost no player can sustain that level into their late 30’s, you hope for graceful declines, in the .5 WAR per season range.

Because of the defense I do not believe Martinez will be a $200MM man, I tend to agree with MLBTR that his likely contract falls into the $135-150MM range. Now, that is a massive deal for a player like Martinez who has earned around $22MM so far in his career to date. Once Stanton finally settles on a team, we should see the Martinez market heat up. I tend to favour the AL on a deal, as his defensive liabilities make him a hard sell for the NL. I would venture to guess teams like the Red Sox, Rangers, Seattle could be potential favorites.

My feeling is that he will sign for $140MM over 6 years with the Red Sox but it will have some fancy opt out clause after 3 seasons.