For all the drama and posturing that this offseason has given us, the courtship between J.D. Martinez and the Boston Red Sox often seemed more complicated than it needed to be.
It was going to be expensive, sure, because when both Scott Boras and the Red Sox are involved, the dollar signs can get big easily. But it was also very simple: The Red Sox desperately needed home runs and no free agent provided them better than Martinez.
In fact, there was no better match to be made on the open market than Martinez, who hit the third-most homers in baseball and the Red Sox, who ranked 27th out of 30 among homer-hitting teams.
Their slow courtship met its eventual fate Monday, when the Red Sox locked Martinez into a five-year-deal reportedly worth $110 million, making him the slugger Boston’s lineup has missed since David Ortiz retired. Yes, that’s a lot of money, but Martinez was the man on the market with the one talent the Red Sox needed most — especially if they have any hopes of beating the New York Yankees in the AL East this season.
In Martinez, the Red Sox get a 30-year-old who hit 45 homers last season between the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks. And in just 119 games. His numbers for his last 162 games are enough to make pitchers in the AL East sweat: .305/.376/.636, 109 Runs, 51 HR and 127 RBI.
In actuality, Martinez and the Red Sox should have locked up their deal right after the Yankees traded for Giancarlo Stanton in December. Boston sports fans have been clamoring for the Red Sox’s response since Stanton put on the pinstripes. The Yankees, who finished second in the division last year but first in MLB in dingers, had just added the NL MVP and 59 more homers. If the Red Sox weren’t going to plop down nine figures under those conditions, then maybe this Red Sox-Yankees rivalry wasn’t what it once was.
It took a while — plus some flirting with the Diamondbacks, with whom Martinez went gangbusters last summer — but all is right with the Yankees-Red Sox dynamic again. With Martinez in the fold, the Red Sox will now have every chance to win the AL East for the third straight year and not begin 2018 as also-rans in the public eye when compared to the Yankees’ high-profile offseason.
The Yankees might still enter the year as AL East favorites depending on who you ask, but it won’t be as resounding as it was without Martinez in the middle of Boston’s lineup. Because the reality for the Red Sox is that Hanley Ramirez isn’t getting any younger but his 23 homers last were the second-highest total on Boston’s roster. Mookie Betts had the most, 24, and as talented as he is, he can’t be expected to hit 40+ per season. Mitch Moreland was third on the Red Sox with 22 homers. The three previous sentences should tell you all need to know about why the Red Sox couldn’t get Martinez get away.
Now, we get a much more even Yankees-Red Sox sprint to the postseason. You’ve got the Yankees with all that power but still a few question marks in their rotation, and the Red Sox, one of the best pitching staffs in baseball last season, returning a young and talented core and now with the one piece that was missing.
There’s a lot of baseball ahead, so the Red Sox’s pitching could take a nose dive — or David Price could rebound and make them even better. Likewise, Aaron Judge could slump or Masahiro Tanaka could get hurt or Judge and Stanton could combine for 2,000 homers. It’s baseball after all.
But the Red Sox did what they needed to do — what they had to do, if we’re being honest. They weren’t going to beat the Yankees without J.D. Martinez. Now, as we enter the starting blocks for 2018, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry is everything we’re used to seeing.
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