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Analysis: Red Sox better land Martinez

Boston Herald

January 04. 2018 9:52PM
Arizona Diamondbacks right fielder J.D. Martinez celebrates after hitting a two run home run in the eighth inning of a July 2017 game against the Atlanta Braves at Chase Field. (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

What happens if the Red Sox wait too long on J.D. Martinez?

You don’t want to know.

But I’ll tell you anyway, because the longer the Sox engage in a stare-down with Martinez’ agent Scott Boras regarding contract length and terms, the more severe the consequences become next season and beyond if another team swoops in to close the deal.

It won’t be pretty.

Nothing personal against the next-best free agent sluggers in the market, Logan Morrison and Jay Bruce, but their track records are inferior to Martinez’. Their agents aren’t comparing their clients in terms the Red Sox can relate to best — David Ortiz — because that’s a void only Martinez has a chance to fill.

In Martinez’ 29-year-old season last year, he hit .303 with 45 homers and a 1.066 OPS. Ortiz at age 29: .300, 47 homers, 1.001 OPS.

If Morrison (.246, 38, .868 at 29) or Bruce (.250, 33, .815) become the consolation prize, Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is going to need everything he’s crossing his fingers about — a return to slugging form by Hanley Ramirez and sizable upticks in performance by young players like Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts — to actually happen.

Since when did wishful thinking beb become a long-term strategy for a winning baseball team? I thought that went out with Steve Avery replacing Roger Clemens and Jose Offerman’s on-base percentage making up for Mo Vaughn’s swat.

Forget about the howls from media and fans. How would missing out on Martinez resonate with John Henry and the ownership group? They rid themselves of Ben Cherington and entrusted Dombrowski with a win-now mandate that has two years remaining.

Dombrowski made three strong trades for Chris Sale, Craig Kimbrel and Drew Pomeranz, but he also started off with a seven-year deal for David Price that is set to pay the starter — a health concern until proven otherwise — $32 million a year when he’s 34, 35 and 36.

How’s that contract looking right now, especially if Dombrowski cannot sign Martinez to a seven-year deal that would end when the hitter is just one year older, 37, than Price?

In fact, what if you’re Price or Sale or, most importantly, Rick Porcello, who owns a 4.25 career ERA and has shown he pitches better with a strong offense behind him? How would Dombrowski explain to the pitchers that when he had the chance to spend the owners’ money and not raid the farm system, he couldn’t close the deal on Martinez?

What kind of statement would it be to Betts, Bogaerts and even rising stars like Andrew Benintendi about their long-term future that going the extra years and dollars for a proven slugger isn’t worth it?

This is just the immediate lay of the land to the risky hand Dombrowski seems to be playing. Look ahead to next winter if the Sox cannot sign Martinez.

Everyone knows that free agent class will be the best in a long, long time. Bryce Harper, Charlie Blackmon and Manny Machado be out there. So will Kimbrel for that matter. And maybe Clayton Kershaw.

When the price tags for some of those players are discussed, a contract of seven years and an estimated $200 million to $210 million for Martinez will be a bargain. And unlike next year’s premier free agents (unless one is traded), Martinez will not cost the Sox a draft pick.

The Red Sox already are going to bust through the luxury tax threshold this year. There’s no sense in embracing a tight-fisted fiscal approach this year when next year the spending targets will be much more appealing and expensive.

Look at the best options anyway: Would they bust up their outfield for Harper or Blackmon? Wouldn’t signing Machado cause a dilemma with Rafael Devers?

We all have been hearing Martinez’ name linked with the Red Sox for so long now, a myth has emerged that it’s only a matter of time before the two sides say their vows.

But the Sox have competition, other teams with even more money and just as much need for power. And those teams are offering Martinez a chance to play his desired and natural position, the outfield. The Red Sox want him to DH.

Surely the Sox are not pretending they are the only team in on Martinez. Dombrowski has struck other big deals with Boras for Prince Fielder and Magglio Ordonez, and he missed out on one, too, in Max Scherzer.

Unless the Sox have another power trick up their sleeve, they must sign Martinez.

He’d be expensive, but they can afford him.

If they decide they can’t, they won’t just look cheap.

They’ll look bad.

Red Sox/MLB