The Yankees took a chance on a free agent veteran bat in Matt Holliday to be the team’s everyday designated hitter in 2017, and it likely would have been a success if he hadn’t gotten sick. In 2018, the team will be in a position for a new bat in the lineup, but with few options out there, it might not be a bad idea to target J.D. Martinez.
Martinez is coming off a career-best season where he hit .303/.376/.690 with a career-high 45 home runs on the year from the right side of the plate. His trade to the Arizona Diamondbacks at the deadline singlehandedly got them to the playoffs. Heading into his age-30 season, he could be a younger and healthier version of Holliday for a team that needs a reliable power threat out of the DH spot.
When we talk about reliability, Martinez has shown it. Since 2014, when he finally exploded onto the scene, he has hit .300/.362/.574, ranking 10th in total home runs (128) and fifth in total offense (148 wRC+). This success has gotten him a trip to the All-Star Game, a Silver Slugger award, and MVP votes in two different years. On paper, this is the kind of guy you throw your money at.
Unfortunately, despite his massive amount of success when it comes to batting, his abysmal defense has taken a huge chunk out of his overall value. Even with all the offensive stats, he’s still been worth just 15 WAR over the last four years, which should prove just how bad he is out there. The problem then becomes how exactly do you value such a player on the free agent market.
His agent, Scott Boras, has suggested a $200 million contract, which he is not getting under any circumstance. But that’s ok, because it’s all part of the negotiating process, and the Yankees are getting a heap of money taken off the books. The end of the season means Alex Rodriguez’s $21 million is gone and so is CC Sabathia’s $25 million. Even if the Steinbrenners want to get under the luxury tax, there is very little in this free agent class to spend on, so it’s fine if the Yankees decide to put most of that money into signing a big bat like J.D. Martinez.
In all likelihood, though, Martinez and Boras will prefer to sign somewhere he can play in the outfield, and New York’s is full (if Jacoby Ellsbury doesn’t go anywhere). The only other thing the Yankees could offer Martinez that might entice him is an opt out clause in his contract that will allow him to make top dollar for, let’s say, the first three years of his contract, and then give him the chance to leave and make even more if he’s still playing like he is now.
The obvious question that needs to be asked any time we discuss a player like Martinez is how long he can continue to do what he’s been doing. Remember that when Jose Bautista revitalized his career, he had six years of dominant offense before he turned back into a pumpkin, and Martinez has had four. This is a very surface level comparison, since Martinez was much younger when he first broke out, but it’s still an idea worth considering when discussing his long-term viability.
This is neither the wisest nor the likeliest of moves that Brian Cashman could make this offseason, but given the team’s sudden influx of cash, it wouldn’t be too bad for the short-term. Looking a little further downfield is where it gets tricky. While having Martinez’s power potential in the same lineup as Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Didi Gregorius is certainly something to dream on, this is the kind of move that is not likely to happen.