Boston Red Sox: J.D. Martinez Opting in Just Made the Offseason More Complicated

A significant domino was set to fall for the Boston Red Sox on Monday afternoon, and that piece was J.D. Martinez and his looming decision of whether to opt into the remaining $62.5 million on his contract.

On Monday afternoon, ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that Martinez decided to opt-in and remain with the Red Sox for the 2020 season.

This means that Martinez will earn $23.5 million for the 2020 season, all of which will count against Boston’s luxury tax payroll. The team’s top brass, including principal owner John Henry and team president Sam Kennedy, have publicly stated that they aim to keep the team’s payroll under the $208 million threshold in 2020.

The team, as well as its fan base, find themselves in an extremely odd situation with Martinez. On one hand, all of Red Sox Nation should be thrilled at the reality of retaining one of the most dangerous and impactful right-handed hitters in the league. On the other hand, the $23.5 million attached to him presents another glaring reality: somebody is going to be traded. That “somebody” could be any number of current players, but the name that unquestionably draws the most attention is the 2018 American League Most Valuable Player: Mookie Betts.

Betts is heading into the final year of his contract with the Red Sox. The two parties are headed for arbitration for the third year in a row, and early estimates indicate that Betts could earn close to $30 million in 2020.

Many around Boston have asked the simple question, “Why not just pay them both?” It’s no secret that the Red Sox are one of the most lucrative franchises in Major League Baseball, so it’s not like they’re unable to pay both players; they just refuse to do so. Ownership’s desire to remain under the luxury tax threshold means that they have no choice but to shed salary to bring the payroll beneath the $208 million threshold.

As of this moment, Betts hasn’t shown the desire to sign an extension, which could be a vital reason why he ends up being shipped out of town. The team had little-to-no problem locking up superstars Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts to multi-year extension earlier this year, but Betts has stiff-armed the Red Sox at every opportunity.

Obviously, Betts is doing what any other player in his position would do. He wants to capitalize on what he believes his value is without taking a discount or a lesser deal than he could earn elsewhere. Unfortunately, the problem for both sides is that the Red Sox are in the middle of a self-induced cap crunch, which essentially takes them out of the bidding for Betts.

Betts’ high value, along with the pending mega-deal that’s likely coming his way, makes him an obvious trade chip for the Red Sox, but he’s not the only option. The team could explore trading Martinez, who’s now locked in at a $23.5 million price tag. However, Martinez is still regarded as one of the best hitters in the game, and he does have two more opt-outs built into the remaining three years of his contract. The Red Sox could explore the potential trade market for the veteran slugger if they truly didn’t want to be saddled with his contract.

The team will have to get creative when it comes to shedding some of its other massive salaries this offseason. David Price would be a prime trade candidate if not for his albatross of a contract. The fan base and management alike have grown weary of Price’s antics off the field, as well as his lack of consistency on the field, but the $32 million attached to him for the next three seasons makes it nearly impossible to just trade him away.

The Red Sox could offer to absorb a portion of Price’s salary in a trade, but the bottom line is that it’s highly unlikely that any team is interested in taking on a 34-year-old pitcher with attitude problems at a $96 million clip for the next three years.

Nathan Eovaldi is another player who’s burning a hole through the team’s wallet. The hero of the 2018 World Series has rapidly become a burden on Boston’s budget due to recurring injuries and poor performance. Eovaldi, once healthy, could still serve as a valuable member to the Red Sox in 2020, but at $17 million per year, he’ll need to contribute significantly more than he has thus far to make his contract worth the price of admission.

One big chunk of change that the Red Sox could and absolutely should part with is the money that is owed to Jackie Bradley Jr. The Gold Glove center fielder is headed for his final year of arbitration and, according to Spotrac, it’s estimated that he’ll earn $11 million in 2020. Bradley’s offensive and defensive metrics both took a dip in 2019, but he still has value on the trade market. The Red Sox could explore trading the 29-year-old outfielder for bullpen help, something which they still desperately need.

The Boston Red Sox are poised to be extremely active over the next few months as they prepare for the 2020 season. President Dave Dombrowski, who helped bring the franchise a World Series championship in 2018, has been replaced by Chaim Bloom. He’s now tasked with building a team that can contend in the American League East while also abiding by the wishes of Henry and keeping the payroll under the luxury tax threshold.

J.D. Martinez was the first domino to fall, and what happens to the rest will present some of the biggest challenges that this franchise has faced in many years.

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