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.

Texas Rangers ink free-agent ace Jacob deGrom to 5-year deal

Jacob deGrom
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Jacob deGrom is headed to the free-spending Texas Rangers, who believe the health risk is worth the potential reward in trying to end a six-year run of losing.

The two-time Cy Young Award winner agreed to a $185 million, five-year contract Friday, leaving the New York Mets after nine seasons – the past two shortened substantially by injuries.

“We acknowledge the risk, but we also acknowledge that in order to get great players, there is a risk and a cost associated with that,” Rangers general manager Chris Young said. “And one we feel like is worth taking with a player of Jacob’s caliber.”

Texas announced the signing after the 34-year-old deGrom passed his physical. A person with direct knowledge of the deal disclosed the financial terms to The Associated Press. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the club did not announce those details.

The Rangers were also big spenders in free agency last offseason, signing shortstop Corey Seager ($325 million, 10 years) and second baseman Marcus Semien ($175 million, seven years).

The team said deGrom will be introduced in a news conference at Globe Life Field next week following the winter meetings in San Diego.

“It fits in so many ways in terms of what we need,” Young said. “He’s a tremendous person. I have a number of close friends and teammates who played with Jacob and love him. I think he’s going to be just a perfect fit for our clubhouse and our fans.”

Texas had modest expectations after adding Seager, Semien and starter Jon Gray ($56 million, four years) last offseason but still fell short of them.

The Rangers went 68-94, firing manager Chris Woodward during the season, and then hired Bruce Bochy, a three-time World Series champion with San Francisco. Texas’ six straight losing seasons are its worst skid since the franchise moved from Washington in 1972.

Rangers owner Ray Davis said the club wouldn’t hesitate to keep adding payroll. Including the $19.65 million qualifying offer accepted by Martin Perez, the team’s best pitcher last season, the Rangers have spent nearly $761 million in free agency over the past year.

“I hate losing, but I think there’s one person in our organization who hates losing worse than me, and I think it’s Ray Davis,” Young said. “He’s tired of losing. I’m tired of losing. Our organization is tired of losing.”

After making his first start in early August last season, deGrom went 5-4 with a 3.08 ERA in 11 outings. He helped the Mets reach the playoffs, then passed up a $30.5 million salary for 2023 and opted out of his contract to become a free agent for the first time.

That ended his deal with the Mets at $107 million over four years, and deGrom rejected their $19.65 million qualifying offer in November. New York will receive draft-pick compensation for losing him.

The fan favorite becomes the latest in a long line of ace pitchers to leave the Mets for one reason or another, including Nolan Ryan, Tom Seaver, Dwight Gooden and David Cone.

The Rangers visit Citi Field from Aug. 28-30.

When healthy, deGrom is perhaps baseball’s most dominant pitcher. His 2.52 career ERA ranks third in the expansion era (since 1961) behind Los Angeles Dodgers lefty Clayton Kershaw (2.48) and Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax (2.19) among those with at least 200 starts.

The right-hander is 4-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five career postseason starts, including a win over San Diego in the wild-card round this year that extended the Mets’ season. New York was eliminated the next night.

A four-time All-Star and the 2014 NL Rookie of the Year, deGrom was a ninth-round draft pick by the Mets in 2010 out of Stetson, where he played shortstop before moving to the mound. He was slowed by Tommy John surgery early in his career and didn’t reach the majors until age 26.

Once he arrived, though, he blossomed. He helped the Mets reach the 2015 World Series and earn a 2016 playoff berth before winning consecutive NL Cy Young Awards in 2018 and 2019.

But injuries to his elbow, forearm and shoulder blade have limited him to 26 starts over the past two seasons. He compiled a career-low 1.08 ERA over 92 innings in 2021, but did not pitch after July 7 that year because of arm trouble.

DeGrom is 82-57 with 1,607 strikeouts in 1,326 innings over nine big league seasons. He gets $30 million next year, $40 million in 2024 and 2025, $38 million in 2026 and $37 million in 2027. The deal includes a conditional option for 2028 with no guaranteed money.

The addition of deGrom gives the Rangers three proven starters along with Gray and Perez, who went 12-8 with a career-best 2.89 ERA in his return to the team that signed him as a teenager out of Venezuela. Young didn’t rule out the addition of another starter.

With several holes on their starting staff, the Mets have shown interest in free agents Justin Verlander and Carlos Rodon to pair with 38-year-old Max Scherzer atop the rotation.

Now, with deGrom gone, signing one of those two could become a much bigger priority.