Red Sox celebrate signing ‘force’ J.D. Martinez

Dave Campbell
Associated Press

Fort Myers, Fla. — The Boston Red Sox didn’t commit $110 million for J.D. Martinez to be a part-timer.

When he lands in the middle of the order, some of the everyday hitters will have to get used to fewer at-bats each week. New manager Alex Cora must navigate the complexities of lineup construction and defensive arrangements while watching for streaks and slumps and maintaining a harmonious and engaged clubhouse.

Ah, what good problems to have. The Red Sox were more than ready for the arrival of Martinez and his 45 home runs in 119 games last season, no matter the minor complications of making room for him.

“He’s definitely a force,” first baseman Mitch Moreland said, “and it’s good to have him on our side.”

After reaching a long-awaited five-year agreement with Martinez on Monday afternoon, the Red Sox took the field on Tuesday morning under picturesque blue skies with the temperature surging into the high 80s. The atmosphere at the beginning of spring training is always sunny, of course, but the news of the big-ticket acquisition gave the second full-squad workout a little extra buzz.

“Having that type of presence in the lineup can make a difference. That’s what he is. He’s a difference-maker,” center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. said.

Because the contract wouldn’t be finalized until a passed physical exam, per standard industry practice, Cora could only speak in hypotheticals about adding such a high-profile, high-impact player to his starting nine.

He graciously indulged reporters, and thus the famously fervent Red Sox fan base, in his question-and-answer session at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida, by making clear that he was not at all worried about finding space for a player who led the major leagues with a .690 slugging percentage in 2017 over his time with the Detroit Tigers and Arizona Diamondbacks .

“That’s my job. We’ve been talking about resting guys and moving guys and the workload,” Cora said. “It’s very important to have a deep roster. As we know the times of guys playing 162, that doesn’t happen often nowadays. The deeper your roster is, the more options as a manager you have.”

An outfielder throughout his career, the 30-year-old Martinez will likely be the primary designated hitter. That means Hanley Ramirez, who’s making more than $22 million this season, will probably form a platoon at first base with Moreland. They hit 45 home runs between them last year, but they often played at the same time.

“Once we get into the season, it’s not about our at-bats,” Moreland said. “It’s more about the wins and losses, I think. So we’re going to worry about that part of it. Like you’ve heard over and over again, this team, this group, has got one goal in mind. However we get there, it doesn’t matter, as long as we make that goal happen.”

That’s winning the World Series, of course. After taking the AL East title in 2017, the Red Sox watched the rival New York Yankees advance farther than them in the playoffs and then add slugger Giancarlo Stanton to an already-imposing lineup. Adding Martinez, the premier position-playing free agent on a strangely slow-moving market this winter , was the kind of move the Red Sox front office needed for a power-light team that finished last in the AL with 168 homers.

That’s why Moreland, who said he re-signed with the Red Sox without factoring in their widely rumored interest in Martinez, was willing to put aside any concern about lost playing time this summer.

“I was supposed to be in a platoon role last year or split time last year, and I played more than I ever have in my career,” Moreland said. “A lot of things can happen. He’s a great guy. He’s going to be a great addition for us, and I’m looking forward to welcoming him with open arms and watching him help us win.

The Red Sox announced one step on Tuesday toward securing Martinez. They traded outfielder Bryce Brentz, clearing a spot on the 40-man roster, to the Pittsburgh Pirates for cash. Brentz, who spent the entire 2017 season with Triple-A Pawtucket, played in 25 games for the Red Sox in 2016.

Martinez could see some time in the outfield himself, which would force Bradley, Andrew Benintendi or Mookie Betts to the bench for a given game. If there’s ever an issue with a player, well, Cora said he expects to hear from him.

“The open-door policy is not fake,” he said. “It’s an open-door policy.”