While baseball has been in the process of crowning a champion this month, fans on the South Side have had their sights set squarely on the upcoming offseason, which is now just days away.
And there’s perhaps been no name more top of mind than J.D. Martinez, the Boston Red Sox slugger who seems like he’d be a perfect fit to fill the White Sox hole at designated hitter. Media types in Boston have speculated that the South Side makes plenty of sense as a landing place, be it NBC Sports Boston’s John Tomase on a recent White Sox Talk Podcast or WEEI’s Rob Bradford describing the White Sox as the “most logical” suitors over the weekend.
The White Sox indeed do appear to be the most logical landing spot for Martinez, what with the ability to give him a sizable contract, their need at DH, their need for a big bat in the middle of the lineup and their planned transition from rebuilding mode to contending mode — not to mention the off-the-field contributions that make him sound like an asset for young hitters.
But here’s a thought: What if Martinez isn’t available?
In order for Martinez to even reach the free-agent market, he’ll first have to opt out of the remainder of his current contract of the Red Sox. Doing so would mean leaving behind a guaranteed three years and $62.5 million.
While you would think that total would be attainable on the open market for a guy who’s launched 184 home runs since the start of the 2015 season, a guy whose bat was so powerful in 2018 that he won not one but two Silver Sluggers, what if it isn’t?
Sure the White Sox need a DH, badly, but how many other teams do? Obviously no teams in the National League do. What about the American League?
Scheduled to be starting DHs in 2020:
— Cleveland Indians: Franmil Reyes
— Houston Astros: Yordan Alvarez
— Kansas City Royals: Jorge Soler
— Los Angeles Angels: Shohei Ohtani
— Minnesota Twins: Nelson Cruz
— New York Yankees: Miguel Andujar
— Oakland Athletics: Khris Davis
— Seattle Mariners: Dan Vogelbach
— Tampa Bay Rays: Ji-Man Choi
That potentially leaves no more than six teams on the hunt for a DH upgrade this winter. Joining the White Sox and Martinez’s current Red Sox club: the Baltimore Orioles, Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays.
The Red Sox current financial pickle means that if Martinez does opt out, they’ll likely be relieved from a salary standpoint and wouldn’t be in the running to re-sign him. The Orioles and Tigers are in early enough stages of their own rebuilding efforts that they wouldn’t be strong candidates to hand out big dollars to anyone. That leaves as few as three teams in the market for a big-money DH. And if the number is that low, how low are the chances that Martinez would get the kind of money he’d be giving up to go to free agency?
It’s a tricky decision for Martinez and his agent, Scott Boras (get used to hearing that name an awful lot this winter), but one that could drastically alter the White Sox offseason plans. If Martinez decides to stay on his current contract in Boston, how do the White Sox go about filling that hole at DH?
Jose Abreu seems likely to re-sign with the club, but he hasn’t been shy about his dislike of DH-ing — and Rick Hahn’s front office likely wouldn’t want to add another item to their offseason to-do list midstream. Many fans might want to see Eloy Jimenez used as a DH more after his work-in-progress defensive performance as a left fielder during his rookie season. But the White Sox view him as a long-term left fielder and, again, probably wouldn’t want to add finding another everyday player to their list of offseason objectives.
Things get even trickier when looking at the list of available free-agent DH options past Martinez. While there will be some mighty attractive bats out there — Anthony Rendon and Josh Donaldson, just to name a couple — there aren’t many who are strictly DHs. The soon-to-be 37-year-old Edwin Encarnacion would probably be the next best option.
Of course, DHs can come from anywhere. Just because you’re a second baseman or right fielder by trade doesn’t mean you can’t slide into the DH spot. But players and other baseball people talk often about the difficulty of DH-ing, the mindset required to do the job and do it well. There have been very recent examples on the South Side trying to put a non-DH into a DH-sized hole, with Yonder Alonso — who played DH in just seven big league games prior to coming over in last winter’s trade — slumping miserably during the first three months of the 2019 season, leading to a July release. The White Sox know firsthand that forcing the issue doesn’t always work.
So if Martinez isn’t on the market, do the White Sox take a chance with someone like Nicholas Castellanos or Mike Moustakas or Brian Dozier? Those guys haven’t done much DH-ing in their careers. They’re also the kinds of bats that would look pretty good in the White Sox lineup.
The point is it’s a question, and not an easy one to answer. Adding Martinez is a no-brainer of a desire considering his expertise as a DH. Adding someone else? Not so easy. It might be possible, though, that the not-so-easy path is the only one that will be available for the White Sox to tread.
Martinez has until five days after the World Series ends to decide. The White Sox figure to be among the interested parties.