The Red Sox were close.
Some media told us the departure of J.D. Martinez was a certainty.
The Red Sox Front Office Hydra and new Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom were about to see $62.5 million disappear from the team’s payroll over the next three seasons.
Martinez has an opt-out after next season, during which he’ll make $23.75 million.
For now, Martinez isn’t going anywhere.
Unless he’s traded.
Red Sox president Sam Kennedy was reportedly “ecstatic” over Martinez’ decision and told the media that getting the team’s payroll under $208 million luxury tax next season is not a “hard-and-fast mandate.”
That’s Red Sox speak for: “We haven’t given up yet on Mookie Betts.”
It’s Kennedy’s job to run the business side of things on Jersey Street. He needs to keep stuffing bigger and bigger arses into the 1934-caloric-intake-based seats at Fenway Park and ensuring those patrons empty their wallets and zap their debit cards early and often on gameday. Kennedy is undoubtedly is pleased that a star player who is very popular with the fan base isn’t going anywhere.
The dreaded “luxury tax” looms over Fenway Park, so says the narrative. Henry has implemented an austerity program either by will or choice — depending on how much you want to believe a billionaire, whose $90 million boat would extend from second base to the Red Sox bullpen, can be told what to do.
Martinez signed with Boston in early 2018. His five-year, $110 million contract was a steal back then. The deal is front-loaded – to satisfy Martinez and Scott Boras – and has built in protections on the back end – to satisfy the Red Sox – in case Martinez misses significant time with injury in 2021 and 2022.
It is remarkable how things have reversed themselves concerning the Red Sox in just 19 months.
Spend. Win a World Series. Spend. Finish 19 games out. Fire the boss. Blow up the roster. Rebuild.
Not necessarily in that order.
Martinez, 32, has averaged .317 and 40 homers in two seasons in Boston.
But this decision was a merely a prelim to this winter’s Big Verdict on Jersey Way.
The Red Sox Universe continues to revolve around the fate of Betts.
The party line is that the Red Sox have to trade either Martinez or Betts – if not both – in order to reach that magical $208 million number and begin the dreaded “bridge year” in earnest.
Some media have begun to dutifully propagate about the team being “forced” to deal Betts, especially in the wake of Martinez’ non-move move.
Here’s the dirty little secret that bears repeating here: The Red Sox will not be “forced” to do anything.
The Red Sox can “choose” to trade Betts. The Red Sox can “choose” to take him to arbitration. Been there. Done that. The Red Sox can “choose” to offer Betts a deal that matches whatever the best players in the game are getting and make that offer very public to buffer the 50-year PR calamity that will follow Betts’ departure.
We have no idea what sort of deal would keep Betts in Boston, nor does anyone besides Mr. and Mrs. Betts. Nor does anyone (outside the Betts camp) know whether or not he’d take a market deal now to stay in Boston rather than wait a year to become a free agent.
But the Red Sox had better damn well find out.
The Red Sox have far more control in this situation than they would fans to believe because they write the checks.
Life works that way, kids.
Meanwhile, the rose is already off the Bloom. The new boss appears to be a bystander in all this. It was Kennedy and not Bloom who spoke to the company newsletter Monday.
Given Bloom’s pedigree, he was presumably brought to Boston to build a contender on the cheap like he had done in Tampa Bay. Martinez crashed that plan in less than two weeks.
“Our priority is going to be sustainability and competitiveness over the long-term. And that can take many forms,” Bloom said last week.
That’s Red Sox speak for: “I’d sure love to trade Mookie Betts.”
There’s wistful gossip of an “Adrian Gonzalez-Carl Crawford” like deal that would deliver an organ-transplant shakeup to roster and payroll.
Even the pinkest of Pink Hats has to realize that Xander Bogaerts, Martinez and Betts will not all remain on this team’s roster beyond 2020.
Sometimes being a “small market” team isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Bill Speros (@realOBF) can be reached at BSperos1@Gmail.com)