The short answer? Hopefully.
There’s a long list of reasons why JD Martinez is here. The Red Sox need a big bat. They need power. They need to not finish dead last in the AL in home runs. They need someone to at least attempt to fill David Ortiz’s shoes. They won’t be contenders for the postseason with last year’s team. And they need someone who can actually face Giancarlo Stanton and the new New York Yankees.
When the Red Sox didn’t sign Stanton, it wasn’t that they didn’t sign the man who hit 59 home runs last season; it was that they didn’t sign him and the Yankees did. I didn’t want the Sox to sign Stanton, but I sure as hell didn’t want him going to our rivals who almost stole the division from us last season before adding Stanton to the lineup. But you can’t sign a player just to keep him from another team, at least, not for $325 million. This left the Red Sox with a weak offensive team, facing down the barrel of a season in which they’ll have to play a Yankees lineup that includes Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez, to name a few. Factor in 2003-nemesis Aaron Boone becoming manager, and it’s more than enough to sicken Boston fans.
Statistically, JD Martinez is decidedly smack dab in the middle of Giancarlo Stanton and Mookie Betts, the leading offensive player on the Red Sox last season, though you can hardly count his numbers as ‘leading’ anything. Betts batted .264 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs. Stanton finished the season with a .281 BA, 59 homers, and 132 RBIs. The Red Sox’s newest acquisition, Martinez, played for both the Tigers and Diamondbacks, but only appeared in 119 games; he batted .303 with 45 home runs and 104 RBIs.
Martinez – Red; Stanton – Blue (via Baseball Reference)
But despite what the 2017 statistics might indicate, you could make a serious case that Martinez had a stronger season than Stanton. Martinez missed the first five weeks due to a foot injury. He was traded midseason and played in only 119 games to Stanton’s 159. But like his new Boston teammate Eduardo Nuñez, Martinez truly shined after his midseason trade to Arizona, hitting .302/.366/.741 and averaging an RBI every 4 at-bats and a home run every 9 at-bats. He became the first player since Barry Bonds to average a home run one in every 9.6 at-bats. According to Statcast, Martinez had the second-highest barrel rate (barrel is a ball with an exit velocity of at least 98 mph, with a launch angle that produces extra-base hits) in the MLB, second only to Stanton’s new teammate, Aaron Judge. By the end of September, Martinez’s slugging percentage was 45 points ahead of Stanton’s, and he was averaging fewer strikeouts than Stanton, too.
Giancarlo Stanton is two years younger than Martinez, but he’s also been injured almost every single season. Until 2017, he’d only had two seasons where he was able to play more than 123 games. Before last season, he’d been unable to finish three consecutive seasons. In September 2014, a horrific ball-to-the-face accident required surgery, in June 2015, he broke his hand, and in August 2016, his season was cut short by a groin injury. Add his non-season-ending injuries from 2011, 2012, and 2013, and you have a very mortal man who has superhuman tendencies, not the other way around. I said it all last season: Giancarlo Stanton’s 2017 is no man’s norm, not even his own.
Of course, Martinez is no perfect solution; there’s no such thing. The power-hitter is known for just that: power-hitting, and not much else. He’s limited in his fielding ability, which makes him a risky acquisition when considering interleague and postseason games against National League teams when he won’t be able to DH. But 31 of the slugger’s 45 homers last season came after the All-Star break, during which time the Red Sox’s leading home run hitters, Rafael Devers, Mitch Moreland, and Hanley Ramirez each only hit 10. The Yankees have at least four players who could hit between 30-60 home runs this season; not one Red Sock in the 2017 lineup even hit 25. There’s no David and Goliath story here for Martinez; best-case scenario, he’ll be a star on a middling team.
If you’re an optimist, you’re going to look at all of this and hope that not only will Martinez be a viable opponent against Stanton, but that he might even be better. Me, I’m a realist, so I’m just praying we don’t make fools of ourselves this season. Only time will tell.