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.”
Braves place Matt Adams, Ozzie Albies on IL, reinstate Nick Markakis
In another move on Wednesday, outfielder Nick Markakis was reinstated from the restricted list. Markakis announced on July 29 that he was returning to the team, three weeks after opting out because of concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.
Albies is batting only .159 after he was held without a hit in Tuesday night’s 10-1 win over Toronto. He is in a 2-for-21 slump as he tried to play with a bruised right wrist. The injury led the switch-hitter to bat left-handed against left-hander Anthony Kay in the seventh inning.
Adams has been the team’s primary designated hitter and has made two starts at first base. He hit a second-inning homer on Tuesday night before leaving the game with a strained left hamstring.
Markakis, 36, opted out on July 6, when he said he was uneasy about playing the season without fans and then was swayed by his telephone conversation with teammate Freddie Freeman, who tested positive for COVID-19. Freeman returned for the start of the season.
The injuries to Adams and Albies follow the season-ending torn Achilles tendon suffered by Atlanta’s top starting pitcher, Mike Soroka, on Monday night. The Braves have not announced a replacement for Soroka in the rotation.
In an MLB season short of celebrations, Jon Jay achieves a veteran’s milestone
The pandemic has given us Major League Baseball like we’ve never seen it, on the field and off. No fans in the stands, extended dugouts for social distancing and pitchers carrying their own rosin bags to the mound are among the abnormalities of the 2020 season.
One other everyday aspect of the game that COVID-19 has taken away is celebrating — not just on the field but also off. Significant milestones by players are often met with festive nights out on the town with teammates.
Jon Jay might not be a star name that jumps out when you think of current big league ballplayers. He’s in his second spin with the Arizona Diamondbacks, having moved through six organizations and been traded twice. Since reaching free agency, he has played on four consecutive one-year contracts signed with four different teams, the latest a split deal in which he wasn’t guaranteed a spot on the active roster.
But Jay is about to join an exclusive fraternity on Wednesday. That’s the day he will reach 10 full years of major league service time, something only about 6% of the nearly 20,000 players who have worn a big-league uniform have achieved, according to the Major League Baseball Players Association.
“When you look at the history of this game and the names who have played and to be able to play for 10 years, the numbers are against you, so to reach that number is a huge accomplishment,” Jay said. “This is going to be the first individual accomplishment I’m very, very proud of. Winning the World Series is all about the team. Going to the playoffs is all about the team. But this is personal, and I will definitely cherish this.”
Players need 172 days on an active roster to register a full year of service time. Jay entered this season with nine years, 134 days. During the shortened 2020 season, MLB is using a formula of 2.72 service time days for every calendar day. Aug. 5 marks 14 days since the season started. Using the formula, it is Jay’s 38th service time day, pushing him to 172 days in his 10th season.
That translates into a full major league pension, which is $230,000 per year starting at age 62. Making this achievement more remarkable is that Jay hasn’t always been an everyday player. He isn’t the type of player who wows most fans. But fans aren’t the ones whose opinions matter most.
“From the opposing side, he’s just a solid major league player,” former Padres and Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. “There’s not one tool that stands out, but he does everything well. He can play anywhere in the outfield. He’s a tough out at the plate. He’s hit around .300 so many times. He can bunt. He runs the bases well. He’s a solid addition to any team. If he didn’t start, he was so valuable off the bench as a pinch hitter or any way you wanted to use him. I didn’t like him up there against us. He rarely would strike out, and he put the ball in play. You couldn’t shift on him because he goes the other way so well. Without a doubt, guys like that are so important to a ball club. I’m very happy for him to reach 10 years.”
Jay, 35, was born and grew up in the baseball hotbed that is Miami. His parents share a story with many other Cuban families who made their way to the U.S. They emigrated from the island in the early 1960s — after the communist takeover — for the family’s next generation to have a shot at the American dream.
Jay was mostly raised by his maternal grandparents, who sacrificed and made sure Jay was at practices and games on time. He made his way from Miami’s Columbus High School to the University of Miami and then was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals in 2006.
“I always think about the sacrifices my entire family made so that me and my sister could have a new and different life from what they had,” Jay said.
Jay credits many former teammates and coaches for his reaching 10 years in the bigs. Tony La Russa, Jose Oquendo, Dave McKay, Skip Schumaker, David Freese, Edwin Jackson, Cris Carpenter, Allen Craig and Carlos Beltran are a few of the people in the game who Jay says played roles in his advancement.
“When I think back and look at this journey, the first thing I’m grateful for are the people that really helped me to get to where I am,” Jay said. “From my grandparents to my parents to the life they gave me as a kid. I reflect on all the things that had to come together for me to have accomplished everything I have. Looking up now after quarantine and to say, damn, 10 years in the big leagues.”
Jay might be somewhat representative of a dying breed. As Bochy said, Jay doesn’t possess jaw-dropping tools. But his intellect and intangibles have put him in this rarified company. Even so, analytics and a new way of judging players might keep guys such as Jay from being valued in the future.
“When you try to explain what an outstanding player he is, well, those are words,” said La Russa, a Hall of Fame manager. “But when you accumulate 10 years of major league experience, that’s a credential that not many guys reach. Another point — and I’m not taking a cheap shot — but if we’re not careful in this current environment of disrespecting scouts and coaches and teaching and how important the mental qualities are — how does your heart beat, how tough are you. People that are using formulas tend to disrespect and don’t find uses for guys like Jon. Those guys are invaluable to a roster.
“Jon has one of the highest baseball IQs of any player I’ve had on a team,” La Russa continued. “He brings it to all phases of the game. And once he got past a few years in the game, he became one of the leaders in the clubhouse, and that was one of the real strengths of our Cardinals teams. Having a voice in the clubhouse has everything to do with respect and trust and how sincere you are about embracing the team’s objectives. Everybody makes it a point to be accountable to everyone else. If you’re going about your business every day and getting ready to come off the bench, and when you play, you play with intensity — you don’t sit around hoping someone gets hurt or someone plays poorly — that’s when you gain that respect and trust. It doesn’t have to do with how many at-bats you get or how many innings you pitch. It has everything to do with earning the respect and trust of your teammates.”
Six times Jay’s clubs have reached the postseason. That, several baseball people said, is not a coincidence.
“He’s not going to put up glamorous numbers,” said Angels manager Joe Maddon, who had Jay on his 2017 Cubs club. “He’s not the fastest runner. He’s not going to be the guy you want to be your centerpiece to build a team around. He’s better served on really good teams because he’s that piece that helps get you over the top.”
In any other year, teams would recognize how special a moment such as this is. The Giants have a special-edition double magnum of wine made for a player, and every player signs the bottle, and they have a clubhouse-only moment before the game in which the player gets to the magic number. Other clubs have champagne celebrations postgame.
That can’t happen this year, but it takes nothing from Jay’s achievement in getting there.
Nick Madrigal, Edwin Encarnacion exit with shoulder injuries for White Sox
The 23-year-old Madrigal left the game in the third inning after he was thrown out trying to get from first to third on a single up the middle, while Encarnacion left the game in the sixth inning after injuring his left shoulder on a swing in the fourth inning.
Manager Rick Renteria said both had soreness in their left shoulders and will be re-evaluated Wednesday.
The 23-year-old Madrigal is just five games into his major league career, hitting .294 with an RBI. He was selected by Chicago with the fourth overall pick in the 2018 draft after a standout collegiate career at Oregon State.
The 5-foot-8 Madrigal hit .311 with four homers and 55 RBIs in 120 games over three minor league stops last season, finishing the year at Triple-A Charlotte.
Encarnacion, 37, has a home run and 2 RBIs in eight games this season, hitting .200.
The White Sox also placed left-handed pitcher Carlos Rodon on the 10-day injured list with shoulder soreness Tuesday. The injury caused Rodon to leave after only two innings Monday. Renteria says he’s optimistic Rodon will return before the end of the season.
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