Looking back on J.D. Martinez and his brief stint with the Astros
One of the premier free agents this off-season started his major league career with the Astros. The stint, though, was rather brief.
The Astros once had J.D. Martinez on their roster. Then they didn’t. It’s quite a simple story.
Or is it?
Eh, it is kind of a simple story.
Martinez was one of the three Astros’ prospects promoted to the major leagues near the 2011 trade deadline, which unofficially started the complete rebuild of the franchise. Jose Altuve and Jimmy Paredes were the other two prospects that made the jump from Double-A. As you all remember, Hunter Pence was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies shortly followed by Michael Bourn to the Atlanta Braves at the 2011 trade deadline, so the Astros were in need of outfielders.
The front office led by Ed Wade at the time decided to promote Martinez to help fill the need following the Pence trade. By that point in his career, Martinez had only reached the Double-A level. The outfielder was hitting quite well that season with a 155 wRC+ in 370 plate appearances for the Corpus Christi Hooks. It was a significant jump in his development, but the Astros weren’t exactly playing baseball games to be respectable. It was worth a shot in their minds.
In his first stint in the majors, Martinez actually did manage to produce for the rebuilding Astros. He had an 103 wRC+ in 226 plate appearances while posting an 1.1 fWAR. Ironically, Martinez’s defense that season was more valuable than his bat.
Following a somewhat successful debut, Martinez was looked upon as a future building block in the outfield.
Unfortunately for him, though, Martinez would experience of roller coaster of sorts in Houston. Over the next two seasons, his production at the plate would struggle as he posted a below average wRC+ in 2012 and 2013. The 2013 season in particular appeared to be a difficult one for Martinez as he only had 330 combined plate appearances in the majors or minors. He was being passed up in the depth chart by various names like Robbie Grossman.
Yes, it wasn’t a good time for Martinez in Houston.
Something needed to obviously change if Martinez wanted to stick in the majors.
The change that turnaround Martinez’s career was in his swing. Brian McTaggart of MLB.com published a piece about these changes nearly four years ago at the start of the 2014 Spring Training. Here is an excerpt about the issue in Martinez’s swing and the change that then-hitting coach John Mallee instituted for the slugger.
"Astros hitting coach John Mallee said Martinez’s swing was too sloped, which didn’t allow him to get on plane with the pitch and stay there. Mallee lowered his hands at his launch and did different things to help him get on plane with the pitch sooner, helping his bat stay in the zone longer."
Here is video proof of these changes courtesy of ESPN. These changes later helped Martinez show some improvement in the Winter League following the 2013 season.
Unfortunately for Martinez, he was later cut in Spring Training by the Astros before the 2014 season. He did struggle with limited playing time as he only had three hits in 18 at-bats in camp that year. The Detroit Tigers would later swoop in and sign Martinez to a minor league contract. The rest is, well, you know, history.
Martinez, entering his age-30 season, is the most notable slugger on the free-agent market this winter.
In the span of the four seasons since being released by the Astros, Martinez has been worth 14.6 fWAR with 128 home runs. And he is now available again despite it being mid-way through January.
Not necessarily as most baseball teams seem to realize the disadvantage they put themselves in for future seasons with expensive free-agent contracts. This rings especially true for players entering their age-30 season or beyond. This could be a prime reason for the slow off-season.
Or could it be collusion among the team owners and front offices?
I’m not really qualified to comment on such matters.
Anyway, Martinez and his agent Scott Boras is reportedly asking for $200 million this off-season per Jerry Crasnick of ESPN earlier this off-season. That’s, um, a rather expensive demand.
Dave Cameron, the former managing editor of Fangraphs, previously released his top 50 free agents for the 2018 off-season in November. At the time, he forecast that Martinez would receive a six-year, $156 million contract.
Alas, the only teams that appear to be legitimately interested in Martinez are the Boston Red Sox and Arizona Diamondbacks. But Boston is considered the favorite right now. At this time, the Red Sox best offer is rumored to be only five-years and roughly $125 million.
That is quite a bit less than either Boras’ demand and Cameron’s forecast. Honestly, this is more than likely closer to Martinez’s true value. But the slugger will get paid. Sooner or later.
Next: Astros have one last thing to do, sign Carlos Gonzalez
Martinez serves as a constant reminder that the Astros are also capable making mistakes. The decision to release Martinez was not the right one. Of course, it is much easier to make such claims in hindsight. At the time, I actually agreed with the front office’s decision to move on from Martinez. And I never expected at the time that Martinez would be making upwards of $100 million in free agency four years later.
**Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, ESPN and MLB.com**