Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

It sounds crazy, but J.D. Martinez's $110 million deal might be one of biggest steals in recent memory

Alex Reimer
July 10, 2018 - 6:39 pm
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J.D. Martinez is the Red Sox’ best big-money free agent signing since Manny Ramirez. The fact that he remained on the open market until late February looks stranger with each passing day. 

Martinez belted his league-leading 28th home run of the season Monday in Boston’s 5-0 victory over the Rangers. The three-run blast carried into the Monster Seats and cemented the Red Sox’ lead. Over the last 162 games, Martinez has now clocked 60 home runs and driven in 153 runs. His numbers are Barry Bonds-esque. Yet, Martinez didn’t appear to have many serious suitors last offseason, with the Red Sox emerging as the only clear fit. In January, it was reported only two teams –– the Red Sox and a mystery club –– had offered Martinez a five-year contract. 

"When I began representing (Martinez) I told him, ‘Do you realize your value is grossly unappraised in this industry, so I’m going to have to structure a contract to what your value is truly going to be in the future and put together a process where intellectually where we can provide the evidence where you’re headed,’” super agent Scott Boras told WEEI’s Rob Bradford last month. “I said, ‘Because you had just one season where you had more than 123 games in your career, it’s very clear to me where you’re headed and I want the contract to account for that so we can properly represent you in a fashion that is in accordance to your value today and in the future. And that’s going to require some stepping stone models.’ I explained to him how I invented the opt-out with ARod way back when.”

The Red Sox and Martinez agreed on a complex five-year, $110 million contract Feb. 26 that allows the slugger to opt-out after years two, three or four. As a result, the deal is front-loaded, since Martinez isn't expected to reach the end of it. He's paid an average of $23.75 million per season through the first three years and $19.375 million over the last two.

Under usual circumstances, Martinez would’ve been perhaps the most highly pursued free agent available. Entering free agency, he was reportedly seeking a seven-year contract worth more than $200 million.

His market didn’t materialize for a couple reasons. For starters, as evidenced by the lack of middle class in Major League Baseball this season, many teams opted to sit out free agency entirely. The tanking model of the last two World Series champions, the Cubs and Astros, inspired several middling clubs to fall to the bottom in hopes of obtaining top draft picks. The market for every premier free agent was smaller. 

Also, Martinez was a late-bloomer whom the Astros released in 2013. He averaged 32 home runs over the next four seasons in Detroit and Arizona, but for whatever reason, wasn’t considered one of the game’s upper-echelon sluggers. Boras told Bradford he conjured up a nickname, the “King Kong of Slug,” in order to market his undervalued client.

"I explained to him how I was going to use the 'King Kong of Slug.' Boras explained. “I said, ‘This where you’re at. People don’t get the .690 slugging. That is territory that is wholly beyond major league norm. You’re talking about some of the greats game. When you get to .690 you’re extraordinary. And you’re doing this while maintaining an average and an OPS that exceeds the thousands. You’re a great hitter and a great slugger and you’re a category on to your self with your skill-set.’ He kind of looked at me like nobody had ever explained that to him. The modesty was there.”

After socking 60 home runs through the last 162 games, there’s no longer any reason for Martinez to be modest. It’s difficult to call any nine-figure contract a “steal,” but it sure seems like the Red Sox swiped Martinez from the rest of the league. 

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