By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — With one single transaction, the Red Sox significantly shifted the balance of power in the AL East.
No, the addition of J.D. Martinez to the middle of the lineup does not by itself make the Boston Red Sox a better team than the New York Yankees. But by injecting one of the best power hitters in baseball over the past four years into a lineup in desperate need of a big bat, the Red Sox did a lot to gain equal footing — or something close to it — with the Yankees, who of course added Giancarlo Stanton in the offseason.
The impact of Martinez should be immense. He’s coming off a season in which he hit 45 home runs in just 119 games. Over 162 games, that’s a 61-homer pace. And he wasn’t a one-year wonder, either; since his age 26 season in 2014, he’s launched 128 home runs in 520 games, compiling a .936 OPS along the way. That’s not quite at Stanton’s level, as the former Marlins star has blasted 150 home runs in his last 497 games to go with his .939 OPS, but it’s close enough to help offset the potential impact of Stanton in New York. (Though, to be clear, the words used there are “help offest,” because the “potential impact” of Stanton in New York might be something like 70 home runs and 150 RBIs.)
The Red Sox and Yankees posted nearly identical team ERAs last season, with the Yankees having the edge in the rotation and the Red Sox having the better bullpen. But with David Price presumably set to pitch a full, healthy season as a starter (he made just 11 starts last year), it ought to be a true slugfest in the AL East between these top two teams all season long.
All of that is to say nothing about how the Red Sox stack up against the defending World Series champs down in Houston, or the Indians in Cleveland, or any other contender that’s primed to win 90-plus games in 2018. But for now, here’s everything you could ever possibly want to know about the Red Sox’ newest addition.
–Born Julio Daniel Martinez, J.D. was born and raised in Florida. His family is of Cuban heritage. He was drafted in the 20th round by Houston in 2009, which was a step forward after he was drafted by (and opted not to sign with) Minnesota in the 36th round in 2006. He made his MLB debut in the middle of the 2011 season for the Astros, hitting an RBI double against Marco Estrada in his first-ever big league at-bat.
–He hit his first career home run against Dontrelle Willis on August 3, 2011.
–He acquitted himself decently well in his first two MLB seasons, but he struggled in 2013, when he missed time due to a wrist injury. The Astros released him during spring training of 2014, following a season when he hit .250 in a limited role.
–The Tigers signed Martinez to a minor league deal, and he started the 2014 season by hitting .308 with 10 home runs, 22 RBIs, and a 1.212 OPS in 17 games. He joined the big league roster and had a breakout season for Detroit, hitting .315 with a .912 OPS. He then hit two home runs and a double in three postseason games.
–When the Marlins opened their new stadium in 2012, it was Martinez who hit the first home run in the new park in his hometown. Martinez did so against Edward Mujica to tie a game at 4-4 in the eighth inning.
–He does have an injury history. His most significant injury was a broken elbow, suffered in 2016 when he collided with an outfield wall. He missed a month-and-a-half, but he batted .332 with a .945 OPS in 55 games after returning to the Detroit lineup. He missed the first month of the 2017 season due to a sprained foot. He clearly returned fully healthy, though, as he posted a 1.117 OPS and hit eight home runs in 74 plate appearances in the month of May.
–He was traded from the Tigers to the Diamondbacks in July, and he was hit by a pitch on his hand in his Arizona debut. He didn’t start for the four games that followed, but in his return to the lineup he hit a three-run home run.
–That would become a theme during his time with the Diamondbacks. He belted 29 home runs in just 257 plate appearances for the Diamondbacks. He was more than just a power hitter, too, as he maintained a .302 average and a .366 on-base percentage.
–His Red Sox contract is worth $110 million over five years, but realistically, it’s more like a $50 million contract over two seasons. Martinez has an opt-out clause after year two. Following the 2019 season, Martinez can decide to test the free-agent waters again (perhaps Scott Boras told him to expect more interested parties in for 2020), or stay in Boston at $22 million in 2020, and $19 million per year in 2021 and 2022. He also has an opt-out option after the 2020 season as well.
–Martinez may not be a household name across the country, but he represents one of the biggest position player signings in Red Sox history. With an average of $22 million per year, Martinez cashed in at the level of Hanley Ramirez in 2015 and Adrian Gonzalez in 2011 (though Gonzalez was technically a contract extension, after the Red Sox acquired him via trade). Manny Ramirez signed as a power-hitting free agent at $20 million per year over eight years, Carl Crawford got a little over $20 million per year for seven years, and Pablo Sandoval got $19 million per year over five years.
–Martinez also had an excellent season prior to the Red Sox signing him to a big-money deal, ranking just behind Manny Ramirez in terms of overall impact.
He batted .303 with 45 home runs, 104 RBIs and a 1.066 OPS last year in 119 games.
Manny Ramirez batted .351 with 38 home runs, 122 RBIs and a 1.154 OPS in 118 games in his final season in Cleveland in 2000.
Hanley Ramirez batted .283 with 13 home runs, 74 RBIs and an .817 OPS in 128 games in 2014.
Sandoval batted .279 with 16 home runs, 73 RBIs and a .739 OPS in 157 games in 2014.
–Martinez doesn’t have a ton of experience playing at Fenway Park, but when he has played in Boston, he has mashed. In 29 plate appearances across seven games at Fenway, Martinez owns a .444 batting average. He has not homered, but he has gone 12-for-27 with two doubles and a pair of walks for a 1.001 OPS.
–Martinez has played 10 games at Yankee Stadium, and he’s hit three home runs. In 41 plate appearances in the Bronx, he’s batted .333 with the three home runs, two doubles, and seven RBIs.
–He also has three home runs in 10 games at Camden Yards. The lone AL East ballpark in which he has not yet gone yard is in Toronto, where he’s gone 7-for-25 (.280) with four doubles.
–No MLB hitter was better than Martinez after July 19 last year:
–Over the past four seasons all across Major League Baseball, Martinez has been one of the best hitters in the game. As noted by ESPN’s Scott Lauber, Martinez has been “one of only two players to hit .300 with at least 125 home runs and a .550 slugging percentage since 2014.” The other player? Mike Trout.
–Martinez may create some problems for Alex Cora in his first season as an MLB manager. Granted, having too many good players is a great problem to have, but it is a problem nonetheless. Martinez has primarily been an outfielder, and he’s played the most in right field. That’s a spot currently occupied by Mookie Betts. Martinez has also played left field, but that’s where Andrew Benintendi is slotted to start. Cora said last week that he envisions Benintendi as a No. 2 hitter for the team, so his spot in the lineup should be considered solid. Jackie Bradley Jr. is the rare center fielder whose defense almost requires him to be in the starting lineup more often than not.
Occasionally, Bradley may get pushed out of the lineup, forcing either Benintendi or Betts to shift to center field, which definitely sets the Red Sox back from a defensive perspective.
Martinez can also DH. But with Hanley Ramirez likely penciled in for that role and with Mitch Moreland likely serving as the regular first baseman, there’s likewise a glut of humans in that mix.
Moreland, who signed a two-year contract worth $13 million in December, may most often end up being the odd man out.
–Last year, Martinez became the first player to ever win a Player Of The Week Award four times in the same season.
–Martinez said he completely changed his swing during the 2013 season.
–Martinez truly hits the ball to all fields. Take a look at how he’s sprayed his hits since 2014:
–Martinez became the 18th player in MLB history to hit four home runs in a single game. He did it in four consecutive plate appearances.
–If you like watching dingers, here’s what 28 of them look like in one video: