The Boston Red Sox have said goodbye to a number of veterans so far this calendar year, ranging from franchise mainstays (Mookie Betts) to short-term rentals (Kevin Pillar). Designated hitter J.D. Martinez, now nearing the end of his third year in Boston, is closer to the former than the latter. He does not, however, appear to be close to the door — at least not by his own volition; rather, there’s reason to believe he won’t exercise his opt-out clause this winter, beginning with his play and extending to recent comments he made about free agency.

Martinez entered Friday hitting .233/.315/.403 (91 OPS+) with three home runs in 34 games. Those marks are well below his established norms, as he’d hit .317/.392/.593 (156 OPS+) with 79 home runs in his first 296 games with the Red Sox. While some decline is to be expected from players in their 30s, it stands to reason that other factors are contributing to his season, including the uneasiness of everyday life and the small-sample aspect. Another factor to consider is the league’s pandemic-inspired video restrictions that Martinez bemoaned earlier in the year; it’s fair to assume those sanctions have impacted his abilities to prepare and to adjust.

Add it all together, and yes, Martinez is having a down season. Even if he was hitting like normal, it’s not clear that he would’ve foregone the $38 million remaining on his contract to test free agency. That’s because Martinez sounds uneasy about the market. “I don’t know how that’s going to happen. I would not want to be a free agent during this time for that reason. You just don’t know,” he told reporters, including the Boston Globe’s Alex Speier, on Thursday afternoon. 

Martinez made it clear that he wasn’t addressing his own situation, and that his comments should not be interpolated onto his personal context. Still, it’s hard to believe he would forecast a cold winter before then voluntarily exposing himself to the same conditions. Things can change, obviously, but it seems more likely than not that he will pass on free agency.

Assuming Martinez does opt-in, the pressing question will become whether or not the Red Sox attempt to trade him. Remember, Boston agreed to pay for about half of the $96 million that remained on David Price’s contract as part of their deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers; eating into Martinez’s $38 million is small peas by comparison. With the universal DH likely to remain in place, the Red Sox should have more suitors than they would have a year ago. (Martinez reportedly has a limited no-trade clause that allows him to block three teams annually.)

As such, Martinez might find himself on a different club come Opening Day 2021 no matter what he does or doesn’t decide to do with his opt-out clause. 


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