If J.D. Martinez wants to hit free agency this winter with an opportunity to maximize his guaranteed money over the next few years, he should do that.

But if he thinks the Red Sox will be waiting for him on the other side, that’s a bold gamble to make.

Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, one of the most plugged-in reporters out there, made headlines Monday when he went on The Athletic’s baseball podcast and said he expects Martinez to opt out of the final year of his contract with the Red Sox.

If Martinez stays, he’s owed $19.375 million. If he exits, the Red Sox will almost certainly offer him a one-year qualifying offer worth $18.4 million, which Martinez will surely decline, and at that point it’s a win-win for the Sox. They can either get Martinez back in free agency or move on, let him sign elsewhere and receive draft pick compensation.

Because players who have loyalty to one club are becoming extinct in the modern game — don’t blame them; club loyalty to one player is just as rare, as the Red Sox are a prime example of — it’s hard to blame Martinez for wanting to get perhaps one more lucrative deal in his career.

He’s 34 years old, had a good-not-great season in 2021 (.867 OPS) after an abysmal season in 2020 (.680 OPS) and is likely to be entering free agency at a time when the National League is adopting the designated hitter, adding another 15 teams who should have interest in his services. It’s not official yet, but it is widely speculated that when the new collective bargaining agreement is hammered out this winter that the DH will become universal.

As much as the Red Sox have appreciated Martinez’s services as their DH and quasi-hitting coach, losing him will also increase their financial flexibility as they look to revamp their roster.

As it stands, they’re already set to have about $35 million of space before the $210-million mark, assuming there’s a luxury tax threshold in place again next year. Losing Martinez’s salary brings the Sox to almost $55 million in space, and much more if they consider spending past the threshold, which they absolutely should do.

They only have one more season before Xander Bogaerts can opt out and Nathan Eovaldi becomes a free agent and just two seasons until Rafael Devers can test free agency. It wouldn’t be wise to waste prime years of three great players.

They’ve also stayed under the threshold for two straight years, and pressure should be mounting from Red Sox fans who were patient in 2020 and ’21 while the team finished in last place and then made a Cinderella run, respectively.

This is the best free-agent class baseball has seen in a while, with Hall of Fame pitchers like Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Clayton Kershaw hitting the market along with superstar infielders like Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, Javier Baez, Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo, among others.

Teams will be spending and the Sox have no reason not to be.

How much will it take to bring back Martinez? It’s easy to compare his situation to the four-year, $57-million deal signed by Nelson Cruz before the 2015 season. In today’s game that’s the equivalent of a $69 million deal, if you adjust the salary at a comparative rate to the average of the top-125 salaries that make up the qualifying offer.

Cruz was also 34 years old when he hit free agency in ’15, and he was coming off a similar season with 40 homers and an .859 OPS.

Martinez hit 28 homers with an .867 OPS this year, though he can boast that he can still play some outfield and has largely stayed healthy through the duration of his Red Sox contract.

It’s hard to imagine the Sox spending that much to bring Martinez back.

More likely, perhaps, is the scenario that they re-sign Kyle Schwarber, who will be 29 when the season starts and hits left-handed. His plate approach mixes well with what the Sox are trying to accomplish as they go away from the free-swinging method and begin focusing on quality at-bats and drawing walks, forcing pitchers to come into the strike zone. And Schwarber could also play some first base.

Martinez has been an elite hitter for them and there’s no question Dave Dombrowski deserves a lot of credit for reading the market correctly and signing Martinez to a five-year, $110-million deal before the 2018 season. The Sox won a World Series they almost certainly wouldn’t have won without him, and they enjoyed one of the top offenses in baseball while he was in Boston.

But if he wants to opt out and move on, the Sox shouldn’t be too upset about it.

There are options in free agency, they’ll have money to spend and could even receive draft pick compensation in return.
It’s not a bad deal for either side.

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