J.D. Martinez on this new world of free agency: 'It's embarrassing for baseball'

Rob Bradford
February 24, 2019 - 8:02 am
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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- J.D. Martinez can't stand to watch what is going on in baseball. That much is clear.

He had a hard time biting his tongue last year when living through baseball's new way of doing things, ultimately landing his free-agent deal on Feb. 26 during spring training. Now that teams are taking the same slow-roll approach to signing free agents this year, the slugger has joined many of his fellow big leaguers in reaching their boiling point.

From Martinez's perspective, the business of baseball is broken and there's no fix in sight. 

"One-hundred-percent," Martinez told WEEI.com when asked if he had an idea there would be a second straight offseason where free agents were being drastically more undervalued than in years' past. "I knew it was. Why wouldn't it? They got away with it last year, why wouldn't they do it again? What's going to happen? Nothing. It's embarrassing for baseball, it really is. It's really embarrassing for the game. You have a business. They say, 'The market is down, the market is changing.' The market is higher than it's ever been. People are making more money than ever, and they're trying to suppress it. It's more of a race towards the bottom now than a race towards the top. You can go right now through everyone's lineup and you already know who's going to be in the playoffs. What's the fun in that? We might as well just fast-forward to the end of the season."

While the market was slow across the board the last offseason, Martinez's deal truly provided the eye-opener when it came to how teams might be approaching this new way of doing business. But according to the Sox' outfielder/DH there were signs that this might become a trend.

"Last year, and almost the year before (he noticed it)," he said. "When I was in Detroit, and Justin Upton signed late (Jan. 20, 2016). I saw it there. I was like, 'There's something up.' As players, we thought everything was going good and on the right track. We were getting paid, baseball is doing great, we're getting fair compensation. We're happy with what we're getting. Then all of a sudden, we're in this thing now. This is a product of their creation and what they wanted."

So now that the problem has been identified, what can be done? That's the problem, according to Martinez.

At the time the players agreed to the current collective bargaining agreement there weren't overt signs that teams might be taking this financial approach. The priorities seemed to be quality of life over some sort of protection against less-than-ideal payouts. So now this is what Martinez and his colleagues are stuck with for the next three years.

"We just gotta go to the drawing board," he said. "The players' association comes, sits down with the CBA, and we gotta figure out how we're going to counter it. The game has to change. We have to incentivize to win, not to lose.

"Losing is incentivized now. You have 80 percent of the teams trying to lose. We were at a point where we were getting paid well and everything was fair. We saw where the product was going, everything was moving forward. Then we're like, 'OK, we're not going to push the envelope fighting for money. Let's fight for an extra bus.' Again, I was a lot younger than I am now. I wasn't aware of those things. When you get older, you go through arbitration, you start seeing it affect you directly, and you get a lot more involved. This has definitely been eye-opening to everyone. Not just myself, but all of the players. There obviously have to be some changes.

"There's nothing we can do now. It's going to be like this for the next three years. But it's what they wanted. We've got to make sure we have our ducks aligned for 2021. I think the public knows. (Commissioner Rob) Manfred and that side is going to have lots of things to think about on their end, and the players' association will have a lot of things to think about on our end."

It has certainly been bad for the players, but according to Martinez the teams' approach also is doing little to help the game.

Too many bad teams, and not enough of them worrying about getting better.

"You can't say it's good when guys out there are signing minor league deals and they would be big league players on 80 percent of the teams, but why would a team sign a player when you can pay dirt, and they're not going to win anyway?  When you have 80 percent of the teams trying to lose, there are only so many prospects out there worth fighting for," he explained. "There aren't too many Mookie Betts, Mike Trouts or Bryce Harpers out there to be grabbed. Those players only come around once every 10 years. You tell me. Do you know who's going to be in the playoffs already? Is that exciting for the fans? We have to switch it up and incentivize these teams to win because now you don't know. Now you have teams going out there and making a run for it because if they win a certain amount of games, they might get an extra pick, you know? Switch it up on them. It's something we're going to have to do."