Red Sox DH J.D. Martinez and Brewers outfielder Christian Yelich have been named the AL and NL Hank Aaron Award winners for the 2018 season, according to an official announcement from Major League Baseball on Friday. The awards were officially presented to the players during a pregame ceremony prior to Game 3 of the World Series.
Martinez, 31, is rounding off a career-best year at the plate — which proved fortuitous for the Red Sox after they inked him to a five-year, $110 million deal over the offseason. In 2018, he came away with 43 home runs, second-most in either league during the regular season, and batted a cool .330/.402/.629 with 5.9 fWAR and a league-leading 130 RBI across 649 plate appearances. While postseason performances aren’t taken into account for the offense-focused Hank Aaron Awards, Martinez performed well there, too, hitting at a .333/.429/.538 clip up through Game 2 of the World Series.
Yelich, 26, is a clear frontrunner for NL MVP after dominating at the plate throughout the 2018 season. He blazed his way up the leaderboard with a .326/.402/.598 batting line, 36 homers, and fourth-best 7.6 fWAR in 651 PA, and his 1.000 OPS was the highest among any National League hitter, to boot. He’s also the second-ever Brewer to earn the award since Prince Fielder first nabbed it in 2007.
This marks the second time in three years during which a Red Sox designated hitter has taken home the American League award. Former Red Sox slugger David Ortiz earned the distinction in 2016 as well, while last year’s awards went to Astros second baseman and AL MVP José Altuve and former Marlins outfielder and NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton.
Around this time last year, the ink was drying on Manny Machado‘s 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres and Bryce Harper was about to put the finishing touches on his 13-year, $330 million deal with the Phillies. We had gotten used to premier free agents hanging out in limbo until late February and even into March. This past offseason, however, was a return to normal. The top three free agents — Gerrit Cole, Anthony Rendon, and Stephen Strasburg — all signed in December. Once the big names are off the board, the lesser free agents subsequently tend to find homes. There were a handful of noteworthy signings in January, but pretty much everyone was off the board when February began.
There are a handful of free agents remaining as I write this, with one name really sticking out: Yasiel Puig. Last season, between the Reds and Indians, Puig hit .267/.327/.458 with 24 home runs, 84 RBI, 76 runs scored, and 19 stolen bases in 611 plate appearances. He was one of only seven players in the league last year to hit at least 24 home runs and swipe at least 19 bases. While Puig has had some problems over the years, he still possesses a rare blend of power and speed that would seem useful.
The Marlins, White Sox, and Rockies have been linked to Puig this offseason. His market has been otherwise quiet since he became a free agent. The Athletic’s Jim Bowden suggests Puig will have to settle for a “pillow contract” — a one-year deal with which Puig reestablishes his market value, aiming to pursue a multi-year deal the following offseason. Along with the aforementioned three teams, Bowden suggests the Mariners, Indians, Pirates, Giants, Red Sox, and Cardinals as other teams that could potentially fit with Puig, which is not to be confused with teams having expressed interest in his services.