The Red Sox haven't talked contract with J.D. Martinez. But why?

Rob Bradford
March 21, 2019 - 8:36 am

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Just before the media surrounded Mookie Betts Wednesday morning to get his thoughts on baseball's biggest contract agreement - Mike Trout's $430 million extension - J.D. Martinez sat at his locker signing baseballs while clarifying his own lot in life.

"Nothing has happened," said Martinez told WEEI.com when asked if there have been any talks with the Red Sox this spring training when it came to altering his current contract. "There's a lot on their plate."

So, if no deal is going to get done for Opening Day would Martinez at least be open to discussing some contract alterations during the season?

"I would rather," he said of not having to deal with financial matters during the regular season. "I don’t think I would (rule out talking during the season). Obviously, it depends on how the season goes and where we are in the season.

"I don’t really even think it has been discussed yet with (agent) Scott (Boras). My standpoint is I want to focus on the season. That’s the most important thing. We have a special group of guys here and I want to go out and give us the best opportunity to win."

There should be some eyebrows raised here.

First off, the possible willingness to entertain talking contract outside spring training is new. Last July Martinez told WEEI.com he was not a fan of dealing with any such things in the midst of a baseball season, explaining, "Once the season starts I feel like that’s it. You have to focus on the year, focus on winning. You’re not focused on (negotiating contracts)."

But now? There might be some wiggle room.

The big surprise, however, should be the lack of effort from the Red Sox' side of things to get something done.

The easy answer is that Martinez technically isn't in the same boat as the other free-agents-to-be on this team. Xander Bogaerts, Chris Sale, Rick Porcello, and Brock Holt all are in the last years of their contracts. The Sox designated hitter/outfielder is not. Martinez has an opt-out after this season and after 2020, as well. If he stays for '20 he will make $23.75 million, his same annual rate for last year and this one. But after that it drops down for 2021 and '22, with the slugger slotted in for $19.375 million for each of those seasons.

Assuming Martinez does what he did last season, there is a very real chance -- even in this free agent climate -- he sends himself out into the open market. He's just unique enough of a talent to make such a move viable.

"I don’t think it will do anything but distract me," said Martinez of obsessing over his opt-out. "It’s kind of like in 2017 when I was going to be a free agent, you have to treat it the same way. At the end of the year, you let your numbers do the talking and make the decision then. I learned to have that mindset. Focus on the things you can control and not worry about things you can’t. What you can control is your preparation and how you get ready, the game and the at-bats you put together."

And how did he handle that first go-round with a contract year? Judging by the numbers put up in Detroit and Arizona, pretty well.

"I think I was good at it from the get-go," he said. "I didn’t really get caught up in it."

There is a case to be made for prioritizing virtually all of the Red Sox' potential free agents -- along with the guy who will be coming up after 2020, Mookie Betts. But perhaps the strongest case can be made for making sure those opt-outs don't become a temptation for Martinez.

Because of his presence both on and off the field, he represents a piece that might be the most difficult to replace. The easy lesson was going through 2017 without such a middle-of-the-order, David Ortiz-type threat. It didn't work. Martinez allowed for those around him to thrive, and they did. And then there is the culture he has contributed to, one which is built on living and breathing baseball. It was a very real thing during last season's World Series run.

The Red Sox are going to lose someone from this current group, that is inevitable. But when you have an opportunity to keep a good chunk of the foundation it should be prioritized. In this case, that isn't happening.

"It’s definitely a lot more comfortable then it was last year when I came in. It’s a different clubhouse. The role is different than what I had taken on in my career," Martinez said. "I’m just going to keep doing the same things I did last year. I’m not going to try and do anything more. I want to be a leader and help when I think it’s needed. Besides that everyone in here knows what they’re doing. This isn’t the kind of clubhouse you need to babysit. These are guys who have won a World Series already. They know what it takes. They’ve seen it. They’ve done it."