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J.D. Martinez on slow free agent market: ‘It’s embarrassing for baseball’

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Red Sox OF/DH J.D. Martinez has first-hand experience with baseball’s stagnant free agent market. Coming off a season in which he posted a 1.066 OPS with 45 home runs and 104 RBI between the Tigers and Diamondbacks, Martinez didn’t sign until the end of February last year, securing a five-year, $110 million contract. He continues to watch as his peers, including former teammate Craig Kimbrel, remain jobless as March approaches.

WEEI’s Rob Bradford spoke to Martinez about the slow free agent market. Martinez had plenty to say, including calling it “embarrassing for baseball.” The full quote:

“One-hundred-percent,” Martinez told WEEI.com when asked if he had an idea there would be a second straight offseason where free agents were being drastically more undervalued than in years’ past. “I knew it was Why wouldn’t it? They got away with it last year, why wouldn’t they do it again? What’s going to happen? Nothing. It’s embarrassing for baseball, it really is. It’s really embarrassing for the game. You have a business. They say, ‘The market is down, the market is changing.’ The market is higher than it’s ever been. People are making more money than ever, and they’re trying to suppress it. It’s more of a race towards the bottom now than a race towards the top. You can go right now through everyone’s lineup and you already know who’s going to be in the playoffs. What’s the fun in that? We might as well just fast-forward to the end of the season.”

Martinez also pointed out that the canary in the coal mine was Justin Upton unable to finalize a contract until January 2016, when he inked a six-year, $132.75 million contract with the Tigers. He said, “Last year, and almost the year before (he noticed it). When I was in Detroit, and Justin Upton signed late (Jan. 20, 2016). I saw it there. I was like, ‘There’s something up.’ As players, we thought everything was going good and on the right track. We were getting paid, baseball is doing great, we’re getting fair compensation. We’re happy with what we’re getting. Then all of a sudden, we’re in this thing now. This is a product of their creation and what they wanted.”

Martinez was level-headed about the situation, however. As we have mentioned here, the players focused on securing quality-of-life changes as opposed to more money during negotiations for the current collective bargaining agreement. He said, “We were at a point where we were getting paid well and everything was fair. We saw where the product was going, everything was moving forward. Then we’re like, ‘OK, we’re not going to push the envelope fighting for money. Let’s fight for an extra bus.’ Again, I was a lot younger than I am now. I wasn’t aware of those things. When you get older, you go through arbitration, you start seeing it affect you directly, and you get a lot more involved. This has definitely been eye-opening to everyone. Not just myself, but all of the players. There obviously have to be some changes.”

It would be nice if Martinez and others used this teachable moment to realize that the issue is far greater than just free agency. It’s all tied into artificial salary suppression, beginning in the minor leagues and continuing into a player’s first six years in the majors. Fighting on behalf of minor leaguers for better pay and benefits, fighting to abolish the amateur draft, and fighting to speed up a player’s track to free agency would each make a meaningful impact on veteran major leaguers reaching their deserved earning potential.

Martinez is right about one thing, though: this whole situation is embarrassing for Major League Baseball. However, the consequences of such an embarrassment would have been felt in the form of things like lower ticket and merchandising revenues. Now that the league and its individual teams have more diversified revenue streams — and in some teams’ cases, like the Braves, the baseball team is merely an amenity — those consequences aren’t really felt. The owners make money hand over fist with their baseball teams despite self-inflicted austerity measures.

Dodgers clinch NL’s top seed, West title with win over A’s

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
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Wrapping up an NL West title has become routine for the Los Angeles Dodgers, but in a year in which no one was sure three months ago if there would be a baseball season, manager Dave Roberts wanted his team to still savor the moment.

The Dodgers clinched the NL’s top postseason seed and eighth straight division title Tuesday night with a 7-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics. They are third team to win at least eight straight division titles, joining the Atlanta Braves (14 straight from 1991-2005) and New York Yankees (nine straight from 1998-2006).

“To fast forward a couple months and be crowned NL West champs is a credit to everyone. It should never be taken for granted,” Roberts said. “Truth be told a lot of guys didn’t know we could clinch. We were responsible but I let it know that it has to be appreciated.”

The Dodgers, who own the best record in the majors at 39-16, were the first team in the majors to clinch a playoff berth on Sept. 16. They will open postseason play on Sept. 30 by hosting every game in a best-of-three series against the No. 8 seed.

Los Angeles came into the day with a magic number of two and got help with the Angels’ 4-2 victory over the San Diego Padres.

Instead of a wild celebration on the mound after Jake McGee struck out Sean Murphy for the final out, players briskly walked out of the dugout to celebrate with teammates. Everyone grabbed a division clinching shirt and cap before heading to the mound for a group photo.

The clubhouse celebration was also muted. Champagne was still involved, but it was players toasting each other with a glass instead of being showered in it.

“We talked about it instead of dumping stuff on people. It’s a moment you need to celebrate and we did,” said Corey Seager, who had three hits and one of Los Angeles’ four home runs, “It stinks not being able to do champagne and beer showers because some of the younger guys haven’t been able to experience that.”

Max Muncy, Chris Taylor and AJ Pollock also went deep for Los Angeles, which leads the majors with 104 home runs.

“This whole year has been weird. There’s no other way to describe it,” Muncy said. “It’s sad not to be celebrate as usual but we know there is a lot more at stake.”

Dustin May (2-1) went five innings and allowed two runs on three hits. The 22-year-old red-headed righty set a team record by not allowing more than three earned runs in his first 13 career starts, which include 10 this season.

Robbie Grossman homered for Oakland, which clinched its first AL West crown in seven years on Monday during a day off. The Athletics, in the postseason for the third straight year, currently are the AL’s No. 3 seed.

Mark Canha had two of Oakland’s five hits.

Seager tied it at 1 in the first with an RBI single and then led off the fifth with a drive to center off T.J. McFarland to extend LA’s lead to 6-2.

Muncy gave the Dodgers a 3-2 lead in the third inning with a two-run homer. Taylor and Pollock extended it with solo shots in the fourth off Oakland starter Frankie Montas (3-5).

Grossman quickly gave Oakland a 1-0 lead when he homered off the left-field pole in the first inning. Sean Murphy briefly gave the Athletics a 2-1 advantage when he led off the third with a walk and scored on a wild pitch by May with two outs.

Montas, who allowed only four home runs in his first seven starts, has given up six in his past three. The right-hander went four innings and yielded five runs on seven hits with a walk and three strikeouts.

“They’re a pretty good team that when you make mistakes, they make you pay,” Oakland manager Bob Melvin said. “They’re pretty good laying off and making you throw it over the plate. They made Montas pay, unfortunately.”

Cody Bellinger added two hits for the Dodgers, including an RBI single with the bases loaded in the seventh.

ATHLETICS ADVANCE

The A’s have a team text thread they used to celebrate clinching their first AL West title since 2013 during their off day Monday, when the Mariners beat Houston.

“We didn’t really celebrate too much yet. It’s exciting,” Chad Pinder said. “We wanted to do it on our own terms. We still won the division and that was our goal. It’s nice to know we’ll be playing home for the series.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Athletics: INF/OF Pinder (strained right hamstring) planned to run at Dodger Stadium and test his leg with hopes of still playing before the conclusion of the regular season. …. RHP Daniel Mengden has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Las Vegas. He was designated for assignment after being medically cleared and reinstated from the COVID-19 injured list following a positive test from Aug. 28.

Dodgers: 3B Justin Turner was scratched from the lineup less than an hour before first pitch due to left hamstring discomfort He came off the injured list on Sept. 15 and has not played in the field since Aug. 28. … Joc Pederson was in the lineup at DH after missing five games while on the family emergency medical list. Roberts said before the game that he wasn’t sure if Pederson will remain with the team during the entire postseason.

UP NEXT

Athletics: LHP Sean Manaea (4-3, 4.50) is 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA over his last five starts dating to Aug. 20.

Dodgers: LHP Julio Urias (3-0, 3.49) will make his team-leading 11th start.

AP Baseball Writer Janie McCauley in San Francisco contributed to this story.

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