And if it had been Nov. 26 in Boston rather than Feb. 26 in Fort Myers, the whole thing would’ve been completely normal.
But nothing about this offseason was normal, not even the union of a team and a slugger that seemed all along to be a perfect match. Never mind Martinez bashed 45 home runs last year — including as many in August and September (24) as any Red Sox player hit all season — or that the Sox were one of the few teams willing to confer a nine-figure contract upon a free agent. The sides still waited and waited until spring training was underway before coming together on a front-loaded five-year, $110 million agreement with three separate opt-out provisions. Then, they spent another seven days reviewing medical records and hashing out contract language before finalizing the deal.
So, as Martinez and Red Sox president Dave Dombrowski went through their grip-and-grin routine in a media dining room that had been transformed on the fly for a press conference, one question begged to be asked, the same question that even Red Sox first baseman Hanley Ramirez seemed to ask all winter whenever he and Martinez worked out together in Miami.
What the heck took so long?
“Hanley would always tease me, ‘Hey, spring training report date is Feb. 15. Don’t be late,'” Martinez said. “I just started laughing.”
Martinez didn’t get the contract he initially sought, but his deal with the Red Sox is no joke. He will make $23.75 million this year, making him the team’s highest-paid position player and second-highest overall behind lefty David Price.
And although there were medical reviews last week that forced agent Scott Boras to relocate his office to Fort Myers for what he describes as “18 hours a day of doctors, language, using our database historically to answer the needs to the team, the needs of doctors,” Martinez said he never feared the deal would come apart.
The sides agreed to terms last Monday, and Martinez arrived at the Red Sox’s spring-training complex two days later to take a physical. As Wednesday and Thursday passed without the deal becoming official, team sources described challenging logistics of administering a physical in Fort Myers and relaying results up north for a review by doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital. On Thursday, Martinez even flew to Boston to be seen in person.
As the situation dragged into the weekend, it became clear Red Sox doctors had concerns about the Lisfranc ligament in Martinez’s right foot. He sprained the ligament last year and missed the first six weeks of the season, and although he’s healthy now, the team wanted protection against a long-term problem.
It was reminiscent of the last time the Red Sox signed another J.D. who was represented by Boras. In the winter of 2006-07, they held up outfielder J.D. Drew’s five-year, $70 million contract for 52 days while they negotiated for protection against a future injury to his surgically repaired right shoulder.
“Dave and I have known one another a long time. We’ve gotten to know each other a lot better over the last five days — and that says a lot,” Boras said. “These negotiations are more of a cooperative venture, as you’re dealing with medical, legal. The goal is common, very mutual. We all wanted to execute an agreement that we all thought was in the best interest of both J.D. and the Red Sox.”
But to fully understand the twists and turns of the road Martinez took to finally land in the middle of the Red Sox batting order, you have to go back to last autumn.
With free agency looming and his earning power at an all-time high after a career-best season, Martinez hired Boras to replace his longtime agent Bob Garber. Coldhearted? No doubt. But Boras has a track record of getting seven-year contracts for free-agent outfielders, from Matt Holliday and Jayson Werth to Shin-Soo Choo and Jacoby Ellsbury. And Martinez is entering his age-30 season, just like Holliday, Ellsbury and Choo were when Boras negotiated their deals.
Another relevant number: $27.5 million. That’s the average annual value of the four-year contract Yoenis Cespedes signed with the New York Mets before last season, a record for a free-agent outfielder. If Cespedes, who has 105 homers and an .841 OPS over the past four seasons, got $27.5 million per year entering his age-31 season, it seemed Martinez could make more after hitting 128 homers with a .936 OPS over that same span.
It was no surprise, then, that the teams that reached out to Boras early in the offseason got the impression he was seeking a contract in excess of $200 million for a hitter he dubbed “The King Kong of slugging.”
There was only one problem: The market for Martinez and so many other free agents — including Boras clients Eric Hosmer, Jake Arrieta and Mike Moustakas — never developed as everyone anticipated. More than 100 free agents were still looking for work when teams opened their camps two weeks ago. Boras landed Hosmer an eight-year deal with the San Diego Padres before finally securing Martinez’s deal with the Sox, but Arrieta and Moustakas are still unsigned.
Agents have accused the teams of colluding, a claim Red Sox owner John Henry dismissed as “ridiculous,” while players’ union chief Tony Clark has decried a competitive imbalance caused by what he describes as one-third of the teams having little or no interest in winning this year.
“There’s a lot of factors that have driven this offseason,” Henry said, not referring specifically to Martinez’s situation. “You just can’t expect every offseason to be a feeding frenzy.”
Industry insiders figured Martinez would get his money after Shohei Ohtani signed with the Los Angeles Angels and Giancarlo Stanton got traded to the New York Yankees. But several teams that were looking for power turned elsewhere. The St. Louis Cardinals capitalized on the Miami Marlins‘ Derek Jeter-mandated fire sale by trading for outfielder Marcell Ozuna. The San Francisco Giants added offense with trades for third baseman Evan Longoria and outfielder Andrew McCutchen.
The Arizona Diamondbacks wanted to re-sign Martinez, who slugged 29 homers in a 62-game binge after they traded for him last July. But they couldn’t afford to keep Martinez and still have money to lock up All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt after next season, not as long as ace Zack Greinke‘s hefty contract remains on the books.
“The offseason for J.D. was like a river with a dam. A lot of water behind it. The question is, when were the gates going to open up,” Boras said. “You kept getting the calls, the interest, the dynamic — we may do this, we may do that — and so that part hadn’t filtered through.”
In December, Martinez drove from his Miami-area home to the winter meetings in Orlando and met for several hours with Red Sox officials, including new manager Alex Cora and special assistant Jason Varitek. Although Boras says “it was very clear there was a fit,” the agent is also well-known for his patience. Rather than rushing into deals early in the offseason, he often advises clients to wait while the market builds.
But with most of the usual big spenders, namely the Yankees and Dodgers, sitting out free agency — perhaps in preparation for next year’s Bryce Harper/Manny Machado/Josh Donaldson class — the action didn’t pick up in January as much as it has in past years.
Dombrowski, meanwhile, read the market correctly. The Red Sox offered Martinez a five-year contract worth about $100 million, then sat back and waited. Although chairman Tom Werner said in January the team was in “active negotiations” with Martinez, Dombrowski refused to bid against himself, even claiming throughout the offseason he was content to open the season with the same lineup that produced the fewest homers in the American League last year.
But for as much as Martinez needed the Red Sox, the Red Sox needed Martinez, not only to bring the middle-of-the-order thunder they have lacked since David Ortiz retired 16 months ago but also as a counter-punch to the Yankees’ pairing of Stanton and Aaron Judge. Once Boras was willing to negotiate, the Sox upped their offer slightly.
Really, though, it was the structure of the deal — in particular, the three opt-outs — that got it done. Martinez can re-enter the free-agent market after the 2019, 2020 or 2021 seasons, essentially giving him a chance to get out of the contract if he doesn’t like Boston, a sports-obsessed market that isn’t for everyone (ask Carl Crawford, Pablo Sandoval and Price).
Martinez didn’t wind up topping Cespedes’ annual salary. But by getting the Sox to pay 45 percent of the money ($50 million) this season and next, Boras can also boast of a $25 million AAV for the first two years of the contract, which beats Angels outfielder Justin Upton‘s $22.125 million AAV from a free-agent deal signed in 2016.
And if Martinez remains one of the most productive sluggers in baseball, he has an opportunity to go back out on the market as soon as the winter of 2019-20, one year after the Harper/Machado/Donaldson group. Martinez will be 32 then, and with three years and $60 million left on the contract, Boras would be aiming to top the deals signed by Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana in the past two offseasons.
If Martinez needed to be talked into joining the Red Sox, he got positive reviews from Price and right-hander Rick Porcello, both of whom were his teammates in Detroit.
“I talked to him a couple times,” Price said. “I told him we’d love to have him here.”
Martinez also has history with Dombrowski, who was running the Tigers’ baseball operations in 2014 when Detroit signed Martinez after he’d been released by the Houston Astros.
In the end, though, it was a matter of signing with the team that needed him most and proved it with a nine-figure offer.
“Talking to Alex [Cora] about going out there every day, it’s almost like, football has Monday night. They said at Fenway that every night is like Monday Night Football,” Martinez said. “I love this game, I love to play. To play in front of fans that are just as passionate and love it just as much is exciting.”
New York Mets acquire star SS Javier Baez from Chicago Cubs for OF prospect
Baez, a two-time All-Star and 2020 Gold Glove winner, gives the NL East leaders an immediate fill-in for the injured Francisco Lindor at shortstop. Lindor is sidelined with a strained oblique and isn’t expected back until at least mid-to-late August.
Baez, who can become a free agent after the season, is batting .248 with 22 home runs and 65 RBIs. He has a .775 OPS and 13 stolen bases in 16 tries, but also leads the National League with 131 strikeouts. He has made 18 errors in 88 games.
When Lindor returns, Baez could move to second base or third.
Williams is also a significant part of the deal for the Mets, who were eager to reinforce a thin starting rotation depleted by injuries. The right-hander is 4-2 with a 5.06 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) this season, his first with the Cubs after spending his first five years in Pittsburgh. Williams, 29, is eligible for arbitration after this season and can become a free agent following the 2022 season.
The Mets also received cash as part of the deal.
New York began the day with a 3½-game lead in the NL East over Philadelphia, and third-place Atlanta was four back. Both those teams also made moves before Friday’s trade deadline in an effort to upgrade and chase down the Mets.
Armstrong, 19, a first-round draft pick out of high school last year, is sidelined with a shoulder injury. He is considered an elite defender in center field.
The move was one of several by the Cubs in the days leading up to the deadline. Chicago also traded third baseman Kris Bryant, outfielder Jake Marisnick, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and closer Craig Kimbrel.
“I want to personally thank Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez and Kris Bryant,” Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said in a statement. “Together they played critical roles for one of the most successful runs in Chicago Cubs history. They each secured a place in the hearts of Cubs fans everywhere. While their days taking the field together as Cubs have come to an end, they gave us memories we will hold forever.”
Ricketts also thanked president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer for “making the tough decisions necessary to build the next great Cubs team.”
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
New York Mets ace Jacob deGrom out until September with right forearm inflammation
The ace right-hander is 7-2 in 15 starts with a 1.08 ERA, but last pitched July 7 when he struck out 10 in seven innings against the Brewers. He will be shut down from throwing for two weeks, pushing the timetable for his return back to September.
Manager Luis Rojas didn’t offer any other update during his pregame media session, other than to say deGrom didn’t throw on Friday. DeGrom has suffered five injuries this season – shoulder soreness, right lat tightness, right side tightness, right flexor tendinitis — and had two starts pushed back and had an earlier stint on the injured list in May. When he landed on the IL with forearm tightness, he said the previous four injuries had each been caused while batting.
“When I go to release a baseball, I’m having a hard time staying through it and throwing the ball how I’m supposed to,” deGrom said in mid-July when the Mets officially placed him on the IL. “The other day, I felt it from literally lobbing a baseball and then never really seemed to get any better. Just continued to stay tight even when I got on the mound. I guess the positive thing is, structurally, my elbow looks good but the frustration part is why. What is it? What did I do to cause it?”
The Mets have used 16 different starting pitchers and will use their 17th on Friday night when Carlos Carrasco makes his Mets debut. The Mets will also wear black uniform tops, a fan favorite, for the first time in nine years.
Carrasco, part of the Francisco Lindor trade in the offseason, missed the first four months with a hamstring tear. The Mets acquired Rich Hill in a trade last week with the Rays and added Javier Baez and Trevor Williams in a deadline deal with the Cubs on Friday. Williams is 4-2 with a 5.06 ERA in 13 games (12 starts) with the Cubs, and has been hit hard, allowing 10 home runs and a .833 OPS in 58.2 innings.
Without deGrom, the rotation lines up as Marcus Stroman, Carrasco, Taijuan Walker, Hill and Tylor Megill, with Williams likely heading to the bullpen for now. Megill has pitched well with a 2.04 ERA in seven starts while Walker has struggled of late, with 17 runs allowed in 9.1 innings over his past three starts.
Toronto Blue Jays acquire RHP Jose Berrios from Minnesota Twins for prospects
MINNEAPOLIS — Despite all the speculation that surrounded Jose Barrios this month, with the Minnesota Twins nowhere near contention and ready to reload for the future, the right-hander wasn’t ready to accept he could be traded.
The news that he was heading to Toronto on Friday brought him and his wife to tears.
Then came the really hard part, having to break the news to their three children that he was joining the Blue Jays in a deadline-day deal that sent two highly rated minor leaguers to the Twins.
“I know that it will be hard because this year, they are bigger. They are growing up. They know more about life and also some people,” Barrios said, predicting the greatest difficulty for 7-year-old daughter Valentina.
Soon-to-be-5-year-old Sebastian and 3-year-old Diego had grown fond of Minneapolis and their friends there, too.
Barrios, drafted 32nd overall by the Twins in 2012, debuted with Minnesota in 2015. Though Puerto Rico was their home, he and his wife, Jannieliz, became strongly rooted in the community. He worked hard to be able to speak English effectively. Barrios felt strongly enough about the Twins he asked the team’s senior director of communications, Dustin Morse, to arrange a farewell Zoom session with reporters.
“When you’ve got your first team or your first time in everything, that’s where I made my MLB debut, so it’s going to be in my heart all my life,” Barrios said from St. Louis, where he had been scheduled to start a three-game series against the Cardinals.
Instead, the playoff-chasing Blue Jays won the aggressive pursuit for the two-time All-Star, who was one of the most attractive players available on the market. They parted with infielder/outfielder Austin Martin and right-hander Simeon Woods Richardson for the 27-year-old Barrios.
Toronto began the day at 51-48, in the fifth spot chasing two AL wild-card slots with a 4 1/2-game deficit to make up. Barrios was 7-5 with a 3.48 ERA in 20 starts for the Twins this season, their unquestioned ace who has been as durable as any pitcher in the game and remains under team control through the 2022 season.
The sadness aside, the opportunity to return to a postseason race will help stem the blow a bit for Barrios.
“They are competing and trying to get that push to the playoffs. I’m so happy to be part of that, and I’m going to put myself in the best position to help that team to make that this year,” he said.
Barrios has struck out 126 in 121 2/3 innings this season and held opponents to a .213 batting average. He was 55-43 with a 4.08 ERA in his career with Minnesota.
Dealing Barrios will set a struggling rotation back even further in the short term, but the Twins had leverage, with so many teams seeking high-end starting pitching. Minnesota decided to hasten the reset process for 2022 and beyond after this disappointing season on the heels of two straight AL Central titles.
“We were setting a high bar for a lot of these conversations,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said after the deadline passed.
The 22-year-old Martin hit .281 with a .424 on-base percentage and scored 43 runs in 55 games for Double-A New Hampshire. This is his first pro season after being drafted fifth overall in 2020 out of Vanderbilt, where he helped win the College World Series in 2019. Martin was ranked this year by MLB.com as the second-best prospect in Toronto’s system and the 16th-best prospect in the minor leagues. He played for the American League in the All-Star Futures Games this month at Coors Field. That AL side was managed by Twins special assistant LaTroy Hawkins.
The 20-year-old Woods Richardson was 2-4 with a 5.76 ERA in 11 starts for Double-A New Hampshire. Listed 68th overall in MLB.com’s prospect rankings, Woods Richardson is now playing for the United States in the Olympics in Tokyo with fellow pitcher Joe Ryan, who was acquired by the Twins last week in a trade that sent slugger Nelson Cruz to Tampa Bay. Woods Richardson was a second-round draft pick in 2018 by the New York Mets, who dealt him to Toronto in the trade for pitcher Marcus Stroman in 2019.
Barrios was one of the few homegrown pitchers the Twins had successfully drafted and developed over the last two decades, but they’d been unable to secure him to a long-term contract and weren’t prepared to try to outbid for him on the open market if he were to reach free agency next year. So they took advantage of his hot market this summer and took another step toward restocking.
With Ryan, Woods Richardson and Drew Strotman, who was also recently acquired from the Rays for Cruz, the Twins have three more viable options for their future rotation.
One player the Twins hung onto was oft-injured center fielder Byron Buxton, whom they’ve also not yet been able to sign to an extension. Falvey said the Twins received plenty of interest in the multi-skilled Buxton, but not enough to warrant moving him.
“We’re just going to continue to focus right now on him getting as healthy as possible, get him back on the field, and getting him playing for us,” Falvey said.
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