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MLB trade deadline watch: J.D. Martinez

J.D. Martinez in 2018. Photo by Ian D'Andrea via Flickr.

The Red Sox are one of the worst teams in the MLB. If not for the Pirates, they’d probably hold the mantle of worst team in the MLB. However, that’s not for a lack of hitting. With the No. 14 OPS in the league, they’re not bad at the plate. They just can’t pitch.

The lineup is still solid though, and with that comes players who are prime candidates to get traded away at the deadline. If the Red Sox are smart they’ll sell off anyone who isn’t tied up by a longterm contract. That includes Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kevin Pillar, who are both going to be free agents this offseason, and maybe Mitch Moreland, who has a team option for next season and is then a free agent.

But the one player above all the rest who has to get dealt is J.D. Martinez. He has two years of player options left on his deal but the expectation is that he becomes a free agent this offseason, and when he does, he’s going to get paid.

He’s not having nearly as good a season as he’s had in past years, hitting .213/.306/.380, but he’s been an All-Star each of the past two seasons and came in No. 4 in the AL MVP voting and won two Silver Sluggers in one year as recent as 2018.

He had an OPS north of 1.000 in 2017 and 2018 and still had a .939 OPS last season, so if I’m a team looking to trade for him, I’m betting on his slow start being more a product of being on the inept Red Sox rather than any decline in talent.

A lot of teams could use a slugging designated hitter like Martinez too, and with there being a universal DH for the first time ever this season, it doubles the number of possible suitors.

If the Red Sox are fine with trading him to a division rival, I can think of no better suitor than the Rays. Sitting at 21-11 as of Thursday, the Rays have a nice lead over the Yankees for the division. Looking like one of the best teams in baseball, it’s time for them to make a move.

Throughout the first 32 games this season, the Rays have used seven different designated hitters, none of whom have played more than 13 games at the position. Not only that, but the two players who account for over two-thirds of the games at the position have both been noticeably sub-par. Jose Martinez leads the team with 13 games at DH, but on the season is hitting just .239/.329/.388. Yoshi Tsutsugo, who is second with eight games at DH, is hitting just .179/.309/.359.

Yes, Martinez has been right there with them struggling, but hs track record has earned him the chance to prove it’s just situational. Adding him to the Rays would add some stability to the DH spot and give the Rays another great middle of the order bat. On top of all that, he would help the hold off the injury-ridden Yankees.

Staying in the East but switching leagues, the Philadelphia Phillies could be a landing spot. They are in a very precarious point in their season,  as even though they are just 12-14, they are only four games back of the Braves and two games back of the Marlins, so the playoffs are still very much in reach. They’ve had four players play over four games at DH, with Jay Bruce and Phil Gosselin leading the pack with eight apiece. They’ve both been good, mainly platooning the job based on the handedness of the starting pitcher, with Bruce facing righties and Gosselin facing lefties.

They’ll probably run with that platoon the rest of the way, but if they want to make a splash and commit to the playoff push, they could go after Martinez. Gosselin and Bruce just don’t have the same track record, at least in recent years, as Martinez. The two of them will still find playing time in the field, but it’s only a matter of time until they slowly come back down to earth. If they want to avoid what I think is the inevitable dropoff at DH, they’ll go and get Martinez.

Heading away from the East Coast, the Chicago Cubs would be a perfect fit. Their main use of the DH this season has been splitting the time behind the plate between Willson Contreras and Victor Caratini. Contreras has been underwhelming, hitting .207/.321/.370 while Caratini has been slightly better, hitting .270/.361/.349. Both of them have an OPS hovering around .700, so they could use some improvements.

Martinez would be perfect, sliding right into the heart of the Cubs order as they try to capitalize on their clearly shrinking championship window. This could be the final year the Cubs have a shot to win it all again with the core that broke the curse, and in a competitive division like the NL Central, they should make a move to go all in. Martinez is that move, as he could hopefully provide some consistent production from DH, something Chicago just hasn’t had this season.

Now time for the only repeat team from the Tommy La Stella article, it’s the San Diego Padres. Another team that just hasn’t had consistency at DH, the Padres have had four players who have played at least four games at DH — Tommy Pham, Josh Naylor, Ty France and Greg Garcia. None of them have been particularly good, and the only one who should be an everyday player is Pham. And in that case, even he has struggled mightily, hitting just .207/.316/.293 this season.

The Padres look like they’re legit this season, and sitting at 18-13 they’re just four games back of the Dodgers for the division. Luckily for them though, they don’t have to be better than LA to make the playoffs, they just can’t let Colorado, San Francisco or Arizona catch up to them. Adding Martinez to Slam Diego would be absurd, and it would really help them nail down a spot in the playoffs.

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