The Boston Red Sox made the right decision when they signed free agent slugger J.D. Martinez to a five-year, $109.95 million contract at the start of spring training. They were desperate for a powerful presence in a lineup that spent much of the 2017 season longing for legendary designated hitter David Ortiz, after he retired following the 2016 season. Looking over the past few years of free agency, the Red Sox failed the Pablo Sandoval marketing experiment. They rid themselves of Hanley Ramirez after a disappointing tenure that culminated in his awkward release, which continues to fall out beyond the sports world. Even Adrian Gonzalez was expected to be the next great Boston power hitter to this day, when he first signed with the team. And Carl Crawford… Well, nevermind… But, those two players were originally signed through the 2018 season, until their merciful departures. Anyway, this time, Boston really needed their next big free agent investment to be a success.
After the long process of negotiation, Martinez has proven to be worth the cost. The outfielder/designated hitter is batting .326/.394/.642 after 74 games, and leads the majors with 23 home runs and 60 runs batted in. Foremost, his presence in the middle of the Red Sox’ batting order has emulsified a lineup that had potential, but lacked a power hitter to drive the offense.
Martinez solidifies the Boston outfield as, perhaps, the best hitting group in the majors. The Red Sox’ outfield is also led by Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi. That trio usually takes position within the top four positions of the batting order. Collectively, the outfielders are batting .284/.368/.511, with 45 home runs, 141 runs batted in, 171 runs scored, and 35 stolen bases. Each of those totals leads all groups of outfielders in the majors.
One of the biggest components of Martinez’s presence in the third and fourth lineup spots is that Betts and Benintendi can take their places in the first and second positions. In 2017, Betts and Benintendi combined for 117 games started in those positions. In 2018, the pair leads off the lineup regularly, where they are much more explosive as set pieces that the heart of the order can knock home. Martinez complements the pair such that the top of the batting order has greater synergy than any combination the Sox fielded in 2017.
Friday night at Fenway Park might have featured Martinez’s best moment with the Red Sox. Martinez led a furious 14-10 comeback win versus the Seattle Mariners, after starting pitcher Steven Wright allowed ten runs in three and one-third innings. Wright’s worst start of the season included two three-run bombs to Nelson Cruz that soared high above the deepest section of the Green Monster. The Sox rallied from a four-run deficit after the top of the first inning, and then later overcame a five-run deficit after the fourth inning. Martinez reached base in four of five plate appearances, with two doubles, a two-run home run, five runs batted in, three runs scored, and even included his second stolen base of the season.
Martinez has been as clutch as he has been consistent, which is one of many ways one might describe the Big Papi throughout his own career, too. Friday night, Martinez’s bases-loaded, two-run single in the bottom of the seventh was the game-winning hit that broke a 10-10 tie. The league leader in runs batted in is hitting .320/.411/.613 with runners in scoring position. That production includes 11 hits and 15 runs batted in through 33 at-bats with two outs.
The Red Sox were desperate to add a power hitter after they placed 27thin MLB with 168 home runs in 2017. Ortiz’s 38 home runs in 2016 nearly makes up the difference that separated them from their respectable ninth-place total of 208 home runs. Now that the Red Sox have Martinez producing as much as Ortiz did, the top of the batting order is back in business.