After a second straight ALDS loss for the Boston Red Sox, we here on the internet are left to pick up the pieces. When the hand-wringing is over, or even if it’s ongoing, we should all realize that what remains of the 2017 Red Sox is actually a pretty strong team set to contend into the future. Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz headline an above-average rotation that could be one of the AL’s best with the addition, questionable as it may be, of a healthy David Price. The lineup is chock full of young guys who likely have more to give than what their numbers showed in 2017, in Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Christian Vazquez, and maybe even Blake Swihart (hope springs eternal!). But even with that bounty as background, it seems clear this team needs an infusion of power, someone to replace David Ortiz’s power numbers if not his place in our hearts. So, there’s good news and bad news on that front and now I’ll meet you at the next paragraph.
Hello! Welcome! I promised you good news so here it is: the Red Sox need good power hitters and (this is it!) there are two huge power threats available on the market in Giancarlo Stanton and J.D. Martinez. Both guys would look fantastic hitting fourth in Boston’s order next season. The bad news is both are bound to be expensive to acquire. But considering both Stanton and Martinez are exactly what the 2017 Red Sox lacked in their lineup, let’s skip the logistics and go right to the fun part: which player should the team target?
Stanton is perceived to be the truer talent of the two with Martinez a later arrival to the top tier of power hitters. It’s true Stanton has elite power, on par with any player in the game. He’s slugged over .600 three times and hit 34, 37, 37, and this season, 59 homers. Martinez doesn’t have quite that level of pop with his only .600 slugging percentage coming this season. However, it was .690, a level Stanton has never reached before.
So this is interesting. Sticking with slugging percentage, Martinez had the higher slugging percentage this season. How about over the last two seasons though? Probably Stanton, right? Nope, Martinez, .610 to .573. How about over the past three seasons? There Martinez isn’t the leader because they’re tied at .580 apiece. Over the past four seasons Martinez is ahead by one single point .574 to .573. I was surprised by this!
Of course, slugging percentage isn’t everything. Home runs aren’t everything either but they count for a lot and Stanton has many more than Martinez, over the past year, the past two, or what ever time frame you want to pick. Martinez has more doubles and triples which is why his slugging percentage is on par with Stanton’s.
If you want to evaluate offense though BP’s stat Total Average (TAv) is a far better barometer of overall performance, and there Stanton beats Martinez every season going back. Sometimes it’s close, sometimes not, but Stanton has always been the superior hitter. As far as the rest of baseball goes, i.e. defense and base running, WARP has you covered. There Stanton’s numbers dwarf Martinez for the simple reason that Stanton is a serviceable right fielder while Martinez is a butcher (according to the numbers) who murders plays in the dead of night with a fork. It’s unclear how applicable that would be though, as were he to come to Boston, Martinez might be the left fielder, and maybe playing the smallest outfield spot in the majors half the time would blunt the negativity of his defense, but he also might fit better at DH with some time at first base. Look at me getting into the weeds when I said I wouldn’t.
There are two things that stand out about Stanton though when compared to Martinez. Firstly, he’s younger. Stanton just finished his age-27 season while Martinez just completed his age-29. Those are two prime years Stanton has over Martinez, which are very valuable. According to what we know about player aging, Stanton should continue at roughly this talent level for the next season or two before declining while Martinez’s decline starts next season.
Second is health. Stanton has a reputation as a player who has been hit with a bunch of injuries, and he has. He’s only played 145 games in a season three times in his eight years, though he was brought up to the majors in June of his age-20 season and played 100 games that year. So if we’re being fair, Stanton has remained mostly healthy four out of his eight seasons. Martinez though has been about as healthy as Stanton. Over the past two seasons Martinez has played 120 and 119 games, and four seasons ago, his first in Detroit, he managed just 123 games. Over the past four seasons, the seasons in which he was an outstanding hitter, Martinez has played in just 23 more games than Stanton.
In the end, Stanton has been the superior player, both at the plate and in the field, and likely will be in the future as well given their respective ages. Where things get debatable is when you start comparing the cost to acquire them. Martinez is a free agent and as he was traded mid-season, he isn’t eligible to receive a qualifying offer, meaning signing him won’t cost a draft pick. If the Red Sox get Martinez, they will have sacrificed only money.
Stanton has been the superior player, and likely will be in the future as well given their respective ages. Where things get debatable is when you start comparing the cost to acquire them.
Stanton is different. He will cost money, lots and lots of money, but he will cost players, too. Stanton will make $77 million over the next three seasons at which time he’ll have the opportunity to opt out. If he doesn’t, the team will be on the hook for another seven seasons for $208 million. That’s fine if Stanton is a huge power threat and a five-to-six win player most seasons. (It’ll look even more fine after Bryce Harper and Manny Machado hit free agency following the 2018 season.) Still though, the overall cost of acquiring Stanton from the Marlins for presumably good players and/or prospects – in addition to taking on almost $300 million in future salary obligations – is massive, and far greater than what it will cost to sign Martinez. The Red Sox have prospects to trade, but does the difference between Stanton and Martinez justify giving them up?
Stanton may be the potential Hall of Fame hitter in his prime, but Martinez is pretty good, too. The Red Sox have a choice to make. They can’t really go wrong with either as far as their 2018 lineup is concerned. As is usually the case though, things are far more complicated than that.
Photo by Matt Kartozian – USA TODAY Sports