J.D. Martinez finally signed with the Boston Red Sox, but should the Arizona Diamondbacks have been more aggressive in their attempts to keep him?
It was a move that most baseball fans saw coming from a mile away. After performing a complex mating ritual that lasted several months, the Boston Red Sox were able to woo J.D. Martinez, the biggest slugger on the open market this winter, to be their counter to the New York Yankees acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton. It didn’t take an advanced mathematics degree from Harvard to come to the conclusion that Martinez was a great fit for the power-starved Boston lineup.
Still, at least one big question remains — why didn’t the Arizona Diamondbacks work harder to keep the power-hitting outfielder?
For their 93-win team last season, the Diamondbacks spent just under $120 million. Payroll has climbed only slightly to $125 million, and should stay right around that level heading into Opening Day. While the Diamondbacks did rank in the bottom third of the league in total attendance last year, they do have a $1.5-billion television deal and play in one of the fastest-growing markets in the United States.
Assuming the Diamondbacks finances are in reasonably good shape, a more significant bump than $5 million should have been coming after a playoff season.
Zack Greinke’s $34 million salary does serve as a lead anchor around the Diamondbacks neck, but they are not so hamstrung when it comes to the rest of the roster that a competitive offer could not have been made to keep Martinez. With Greinke, the Diamondbacks give the impression of a dog, who upon having caught the car he was chasing, is utterly flummoxed with what to do next. Arizona should have been able to handle $22 million per year for Martinez without going bankrupt or dumping Greinke in a trade.
The Diamondbacks have the market size and TV deal to push payroll closer to $150 million, and Martinez was a great fit during his two months with the club last year. Paul Goldschmidt finally had a legitimate 40-homer threat to protect him in an otherwise solid, young lineup. Most of that lineup will remain intact, but swapping Martinez for Steven Souza is quite a comedown.
The lack of a DH in the National League is the only fair argument the Diamondbacks have to fall back on with Martinez. His defense in right field leaves much to be desired, but his bat more than compensates for that fact. It’s still boggles the mind that the MLBPA refuses to hold out for a universal DH when major free agents are being ignored by half of the league because of outdated rules.
Martinez has had his injury issues, only playing more than 150 games once in the last four years. None of his injuries point to a fragile body — just freak happenings that could befall any professional athlete. Having started his career relatively late, Martinez has less mileage on his legs than the average 30-year-old corner outfielder and is just coming into his own as a star.
This was a chance for the Diamondbacks to show they were serious about playing with the big boys. The Red Sox were not stepping up and blowing Martinez away, leaving an opening for Arizona to swoop in with a sweetheart deal. As the process dragged, there was a chance he would have accepted a four-year deal with a higher annual value or a vesting option for a fifth year that could be reached by strong performance.
Allowing Martinez to walk for a very affordable contract could come back to bite the Diamondbacks as they attempt to keep up in the loaded National League West.