While the Red Sox are going to get creative with their outfield alignments this season depending on who they are playing and where they are playing, one name that cannot be forgotten about is J.D. Martinez.
The 33-year-old slugger has primarily served as Boston’s designated hitter since signing with the club in February 2018 — and for the most part has excelled in that role — but don’t be surprised if he plays more outfield this year.
Through his first seven appearances of the spring, Martinez has made five starts at DH and two in left field.
In his first three seasons with the Red Sox, the three-time All-Star’s number of appearances in the outfield have decreased from 57 in 2018 to 38 in 2019 to just six in a pandemic-shortened 2020 season.
While Martinez’s career numbers would suggest that he is more productive at the plate while DH-ing (lifetime 125 wRC+) as opposed to playing left field (lifetime 119 wRC+), Red Sox manager Alex Cora suggested that being in the outfield comes with its benefits.
“It’s good for him in spring training to move around,” Cora said when speaking with reporters Friday morning. “Actually, it keeps him out of the cage while he’s DH-ing, which is good. It’s kind of managing his workload. And I don’t think J.D.’s a bad outfielder. He’s just a big guy. He doesn’t move as well as other guys.”
Since joining the Sox in 2018, Martinez has logged a total of 875 2/3 innings between left and center field. In that time, he’s been credited with negative-13 defensive runs saved while posting an ultimate zone rating of negative-10.
Put another way, the defensive metrics have not been kind to the Florida native as of late, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t enjoy playing the outfield when he can.
“You saw the first game [of the spring], right away he threw to the right base, almost out at second. Threw to the plate, almost out,” said Cora. “So it’s good for him to move around and he likes it. I think as far as preparation, he doesn’t get stuck on the DH thing. When he knows I’m going to use him in the outfield, he goes out there, he shags, he moves around, he’s throwing, which is good for him. I do believe it puts him in a better spot.”
Martinez himself echoed this same sort of sentiment last month, attributing the fact that he saw more playing time in the outfield to the success his team enjoyed in 2018.
“I told [Cora]. I said, ‘Hey, the last time I played in the outfield — like 80 games — we won a World Series. I don’t know,” he recalled while shrugging his shoulders when speaking with NESN’s Tom Caron and Jim Rice on February 24.
2018 was also a year in which Martinez enjoyed a great deal of individual success, as he became the first player ever to win two Silver Slugger Awards in the same season for his offensive efforts as both an outfielder and designated hitter.
“Like I always remind him, I was the one that gave him two Silver Sluggers,” Cora said of Martinez Friday with a smile on his face. “I was responsible for that.”
Cora was then asked if he received any sort of compensation from Martinez, who netted $200,000 in bonuses for winning the two Silver Slugger Awards three years ago.
“What’s the next question?” the Sox skipper asked before chuckling for a moment. “I’ll call [super agent] Scott [Boras] on that one. I got to check with Scott.”
Cora — like Martinez now — was represented by Boras over the course of his 14-year major-league career.
(Picture of J.D. Martinez: Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)