What Are the Best Landing Spots for J.D. Martinez?
While this winter's crop of free agent hitters isn't nearly as enticing next winter's class should be, J.D. Martinez is an intriguing power bat to follow as he searches for a new home.
Martinez's 2017 season didn't officially get started until mid-May because of a foot injury that forced him to the disabled list. He made sure to make up for lost time upon getting activated, though, slashing .303/.376/.690 with a 166 wRC+ and 3.8 fWAR in 119 games split between the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks. His 26.2% strikeout rate wasn't out of the ordinary, but he paired that with a career-high 10.8% walk rate and 45 homers.
His offense went to another level this past year, but it's far from an aberration -- he hasn't posted a wRC+ lower than 136 in any of the past four seasons. His bat looms large in any lineup he occupies, but Martinez is far from a perfect player. In 3,717 innings as an outfielder, he's actually cost his teams 28 runs defensively. That hurts his value a bit and could limit his potential destinations, but as one of baseball's top right-handed power hitters, the Scott Boras client still stands to get a life-changing amount of money on this contract.
Martinez's bat will be a welcome addition to pretty much every team, but where does he fit the best?
One of the best landing spots for Martinez is the team he finished 2017 with -- the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks have a very good rotation and bullpen and are fresh off a 93-win season. Their offense is, obviously, anchored by Paul Goldschmidt and is solid overall, but adding a second top-tier hitter in Martinez would really help them in the immediate future. Martinez raked in his time in the desert, posting a 172 wRC+ after being dealt to the Diamondbacks.
The Diamondbacks' outfield struggled as a whole behind Martinez last season. Their outfield had a combined wRC+ of 96, which was 19th in the MLB, and plenty of that can be attributed to Martinez 172 wRC+ that he posted after the trade. David Peralta (104 wRC+) and A.J. Pollock (103 wRC+) were the second- and third-best offensive outfielders on the D-Backs, and behind them sat four players with a wRC+ in the 80s -- there is a clear spot for Martinez in the Diamondbacks outfield.
One of the biggest hurdles that the Diamondbacks will have to make is the financial one. Scott Boras is an excellent agent and does a good job of getting the most money possible for his clients. The Diamondbacks are not necessarily known to splash the cash, but they have in the past, as they did with Zack Greinke. General Manager Mike Hazen himself has stated that they are interested in bringing Martinez back, as well.
The Diamondbacks have enough in place already where an aggressive pursuit of Martinez makes sense, despite what his defense might look like in a few years, and he has already proven to be a good fit there.
Boston Red Sox
Another team that makes a ton of sense is the Boston Red Sox.
With the New York Yankees shocking the baseball world and trading for Giancarlo Stanton, the Red Sox are undoubtedly thinking about adding another bat to keep pace with the Bronx Bombers. Couple that with a propensity to spend and back-to-back ALDS losses in which Boston accumulated just one combined win, and it is easy to see why a marriage between Martinez and the Red Sox makes sense.
While Martinez is not Stanton, he would be a very good option to plug into the middle of Boston's lineup. The Red Sox had a middling offensive outfield last year, with a 98 combined wRC+ putting them 14th in all of baseball. They saw a down year from Mookie Betts (108 wRC+, but a 5.3 fWAR) and an average season from Andrew Benintendi (101 wRC+, 2.3 fWAR) as well a truly bad offensive season from Jackie Bradley (90 wRC+, but a 2.3 fWAR). Martinez (and a bounce-back year from Betts) would be a huge boon for the Red Sox offense, and it would allow them to keep pace with the Yankees and the rest of the contenders in the American League.
While adding Martinez would, at its face, give the Red Sox a glut of outfielders, there are a few ways new manager Alex Cora can work around it. Despite Bradley's offensive struggles, he was still a strong defender -- over his career, Bradley has played 4,442.1 innings in the outfield and has a 41 DRS, 30.6 UZR and 9.7 UZR/150. Martinez can, typically, slot into the designated hitter spot, keeping three good gloves in the outfield while adding Martinez's bat in the lineup. Bradley was far from a slouch with the bat prior to last year (123 wRC+ and 119 wRC+ in the last two years), so he himself is a bounce-back candidate.
Martinez and the Red Sox make sense for each other for a myriad of reasons. He would be a big presence in the middle of the lineup, and he would be the power bat they covet. The Red Sox would have plenty of options with their outfield alignment, and being in the American League also gives them the added insurance of being able to move Martinez to full-time to DH if (or when) his skills in the field deteriorate.
Los Angeles Dodgers
While the Diamondbacks and Red Sox seem like the two best fits right now, the Los Angeles Dodgers are another team that can prove to be a good fit, as well, albeit with a lot more moving pieces.
The Dodgers are, by no means, a perfect fit for Martinez. They had the seventh highest wRC+ among all outfields (110), and his position is covered by Yasiel Puig, who is not likely to go anywhere. So, with that being said, how would Martinez fit in their plans, at all?
The Dodgers' outfield was plenty productive, but it was largely cobbled together. Chris Taylor (800.2 innings), Joc Pederson (676.2 innings) and Cody Bellinger (366 innings) all saw substantial time in the outfield. While that looks crowded on its face, it thins out pretty quickly.
Taylor is likely going to slot into center field. Bellinger is a first baseman by trade and will likely take over there on an everyday basis for the foreseeable future. Pederson has had his ups and downs and is a career .222/.345/.435 hitter with a 115 career wRC+ -- that's solid but not at Martinez's level.
Martinez would likely slot into left field in this scenario -- he has logged 2,336 innings there in his career, so it would not be new territory. That would certainly make the defending National League Champions even better than they already were.
The biggest obstacle here is the money. The Dodgers have shown a propensity to throw money around, but they already have a $180 million payroll, and the offseason is just getting started. Martinez is going to cost a pretty penny -- as he should -- and it is unknown if the Dodgers want to make that kind of commitment.
Overall, the Red Sox and Diamondbacks are the two best spots for Martinez. The Diamondbacks seem interested in keeping him, and he makes them one of the better teams in baseball. The Red Sox need to keep pace with the Yankees and the rest of the American League's elite, and Martinez's bat would be a big upgrade for them. The Dodgers are going to be a player for almost any big-money free agent, but they may be looking to spend elsewhere -- plus, Martinez may not be a seamless fit.
Of course, teams can come out of nowhere to sign him, though that is hard to predict. What is easy to predict is that Martinez is going to get a ton of money this offseason, and he will do so deservedly. And his addition will be a big boost for any lineup.