Red Sox up ante in AL East with Martinez signing

Patience appears to have paid off for the Boston Red Sox, who landed one of the biggest sluggers on the free agent market when they signed J.D. Martinez to a five-year deal on Monday. Martinez hit 45 home runs for the Detroit Tigers and the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2017, and the 30-year-old should instantly become the heart of Boston’s power-starved batting order.

The Red Sox finished last in the American League in home runs last season, and with their AL East rivals the New York Yankees adding home run king Giancarlo Stanton to their lineup, landing a player like Martinez was necessary. Unlike Stanton, who is under contract through his 38-year-old season in 2028, Martinez will be a free agent again once he is 35, provided an opt-out clause isn’t triggered after the second or third year of his deal with Boston. The front-loaded structure of the deal provides the Red Sox with an element of security their recent free agent signings have lacked.

Boston’s recent history is littered with free agent misfires like committing seven years and $217 million to David Price or spending big on Carl Crawford and Pablo Sandoval only to watch their production plummet in a Red Sox uniform. By contrast, Martinez appears to be a much safer bet than either Crawford or Sandoval. Not only is his contract easier to work with if he doesn’t pan out, his batting statistics suggest he is one of the top hitters in the game for both power and contact, as Martinez and two-time AL MVP Mike Trout are the only two players to hit over .300 with 125 home runs and a .550 slugging percentage since 2014, accordintg to ESPN.

The Red Sox still captured the AL East title last season with 93 wins despite their dismal home run totals, but their lack of power was exposed in the postseason and the Yankees are poised to reclaim the division after adding Stanton. Signing Martinez is the biggest step Boston has taken to defending its division title, but the Red Sox will also need on strong seasons at the plate from youngster Xander Bogaerts and veteran Hanley Ramirez to realistically keep pace with New York, not to mention the Cleveland Indians and the defending champion Houston Astros.