If there is one name that bargain hunting general managers get a chill upon hearing, it is that of super-agent Scott Boras.
Boras was the mastermind behind the mega deal that took Max Scherzer to the Washington Nationals on a seven-year, $210 million dollar deal. He represents a who’s who of the MLB elite, from Bryce Harper and Kris Bryant to big offseason targets like Jake Arrieta and Eric Hosmer. And, as of November 2017, he now represents former Tiger J.D. Martinez.
According to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, the early whispers are that Martinez will be aiming for a contract in the $200 million dollar range. MLB Trade Rumors has Martinez as their second-highest ranked free agent, and projected a six-year, $150 million deal for him. If Boras gets his way, it will be a seven or eight-year deal for the team who signs Martinez.
That fact alone should be enough to explain why Martinez won’t be returning to the Detroit Tigers. Boras is unsentimental. He’s a bulldog who will do whatever it takes to get the highest return on investment for his client. In other words: Martinez is going to make bank, and the Tigers simply can’t afford to pay him.
Why is J.D. Martinez worth $200 million?
Martinez, who was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks in July for prospects Dawel Lugo, Sergio Alcantara, and Jose King, went on to have a monster of a 2017 season. He hit 45 home runs, 29 of those coming after his trade to Arizona. His final line for the season was .303/.376/.690. His 1.066 OPS was good enough for third in the MLB, behind two guys named Mike Trout and Aaron Judge. Martinez’s .690 slugging percentage was the best in all of baseball.
The 30-year-old Martinez will be among the hottest targets on the free agent market, and for good reason. His hard hit rate is a whopping 49 percent — almost ten percentage points higher than last season — and he managed a career-high 10.8 percent walk rate. Martinez had a wRC+ of 166 between the Arizona and Detroit for the season.
His 45 home runs were good enough for third in the MLB, with only Giancarlo Stanton and Judge posting better numbers. And before talk of juiced balls gets in the way, let’s remember that in Martinez’s All-Star 2015 season, he managed to knock out 38 home runs. His 2016 and 2017 seasons were both injury-shortened as well. Had Martinez not been injured to start the year, he may well have been the best slugger of the season.
Why is it a risky deal?
Martinez missed nearly six weeks at the start of the Tigers’ 2017 season due to a Lisfranc sprain on his right foot. This just one season after missing several weeks due to a fractured elbow. Neither of these are likely to pose long-term concerns for Martinez, but whichever team bites the bullet on his contract will want to make sure he’s 100 percent healthy before signing on the dotted line.
What’s more concerning than his injury history is his work in the field, possibly the only real red flag for any potential suitors. If we’re being polite, Martinez is not a great defender. In 2017 he posted a dismal -7.7 UZR and a -5 DRS — which are actually a substantial improvement over the -17.2 and -22 in 2016, among the worst in baseball.
At the end of the day, Martinez’s biggest liability to his future team is in the field, which means he’s more than likely to be a target for an American League team who can eventually slide him into a designated hitter position. Not every team with the money to spend on a $200 million contract wants to spend it on a DH.
Why won’t the Tigers bite?
The Tigers have learned some hard lessons about long-term, bloated contracts, as they’re currently suffering from the deals they made with Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera. With the team in a rebuild, they’re looking to cut costs, and bring on new, inexpensive talent they can build, not established superstar bats who can’t help in the field.
General manager Al Avila hasn’t minced words about the luxury tax threshold. He told reporters earlier this year, “We certainly are not going to go over the luxury tax a third year, because the penalties are just too severe — not to mention paying the actual luxury tax in actual cash dollars. It will just keep on going up. We’re going to obviously avoid that.”
A $200 million contract doesn’t fit with the goal of staying below the threshold.
There’s no doubt Martinez was beloved during his time with the Tigers. In spite of injuries, he knew how to make an impact. No one will ever forget the greatest moment in Martinez’s career as a Tiger, potentially one of the most cinematic home runs of all time at Comerica Park.
At the end of the day, though, the Tigers can’t bring Martinez back just because he was beloved. Much like Justin Verlander, Martinez is going to want to play for a contender, and the Tigers won’t be contenders for several years.
As much as fans would like to see J.D. Martinez in a Tigers uniform again, he’s just not a logical fit for the direction the team is going, and he’s a luxury Al Avila can’t afford.