An elite slugger, J.D. Martinez is worth a hefty price tag. But his recent change of representation will likely make that price too high for the Cardinals.
Scott Boras is a shark. The most fearsome agent in sports, Boras seemingly always gets his players exactly what they want. Typically, what they want is money…boat loads of it. November 1, therefore, was a rough day for free agent slugger J.D. Martinez’s potential suitors:
Prize free agent J.D. Martinez has switched agencies, is now a client of Scott Boras
— Rob Bradford (@bradfo) November 1, 2017
A week later, we learned how rough:
Teams that have reached out early on J.D. Martinez have gotten the impression Scott Boras is looking for something in the $200 million range.
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) November 8, 2017
The $200 Million Man?
$200 million, American. Coming from anyone else, I’d encourage laughing that off. $200 million is a ludicrous asking price for Martinez, even if—as Boras is quick to point out—Martinez lead the MLB in slugging percentage by 50 points. But this is Scott Boras we’re talking about, and he must be taken seriously.
Seriously, of course, does not mean that Martinez will get the $200 million he’s looking for, but taking Boras at face value does mean recalibrating Martinez’s baseline.
In Fan Rag Sports’ Jon Heyman’s annual free agency prediction piece, he had Martinez pegged for a contract worth $150 million over six years, while an industry expert estimated $162 million for six. Those numbers are high, but perfectly stomachable.
Using Fangraphs’ contract estimation tool, market value for Martinez would be a six-year pact worth $169.9 million, assuming he ages better than average—some evaluators believe he’s likely to. Both Heyman’s more conservative estimate and the expert’s slightly higher prediction would, in that case, yield some surplus value for Martinez’s new team.
J.D. Martinez at the Plate
Martinez would be generating that surplus value on the strength of his potent offensive game. Since his emergence in 2014, Martinez has been consistently phenomenal offensively. His wRC+ of 148 during that span is tied for fourth-best among all big leaguers.
Martinez specializes in the spectacular. While Mike Trout, Joey Votto, Giancarlo Stanton, and Bryce Harper (the only four batters with equal or better wRC+ since 2014) are well-rounded offensive monsters, Martinez is far more of an old-school slugger.
Trout, Votto, Stanton, and Harper, for example, all sport base-on-balls percentages of at least 12.4 percent, while Martinez has walked a paltry 8.6 percent of the time. They’re patient and pick their spots; Martinez is aggressive, willing to swing and miss, evidenced by his 26.1 percent strikeout percentage, trailing only Stanton among that elite group.
Martinez’s aggressive approach has worked. Boras touts Martinez as the “King Kong of Slug.” Granted, it’s an unbelievably stupid nickname, but it’s accurate. Since 2014, Martinez’s slugging percentage of .574 trails only Trout. When Martinez hits it, he hits it.
Martinez’s prowess as a slugger is beyond question; he is among the elite of the elite. However, there is a reason why Martinez has produced just 14.6 fWAR since 2014, while Trout, Votto, Stanton, and Harper have each produced at least 19. Defense.
Martinez is putrid. Boras is doing his best to discredit the metrics that paint an unfavorable picture of Martinez, but when all defensive statistics point to the same conclusion—that Martinez is terrible—it’s hard not to take Boras’ comments with a minivan-sized grain of salt.
Since 2014, Martinez has produced -23 defensive runs saved, ninth-worst among all outfielders. His ultimate zone rating of -18.9 during that span is eighth-worst among all outfielders.
Boras can try to dismiss it all he wants, but given what we now know about defensive value, teams cannot and will not ignore that while Martinez is undoubtedly elite at the plate, he is a fundamentally limited player.
And ultimately, that’s what separates him from Trout, Votto, Stanton, and Harper. Those guys are far less limited than Martinez as overall players; no one would hesitate to give any of them $200, or even $300, million.
J.D. Martinez is an outstanding baseball player. Offensively, he is virtually without peer, which will justify the enormous pay day he’s due for. But there’s a difference between an enormous pay day and a Scott Boras pay day.
If Boras gets Martinez anywhere near the contract he wants, the surplus value forecasted by Heyman and the anonymous expert go poof. Martinez’s new team would be banking on him massively outperforming any reasonable projection just to break even. And given that Boras always gets his clients what they want, the Cardinals would be wise to avoid that gamble.
All stats courtesy of Fangraphs
Photo Credit: Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports