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Should the Yankees pursue eventual free agent J.D. Martinez this winter?

 

With the curtain about to close on Major League Baseball’s regular season, it’s no secret that Miami Marlins’ slugger Giancarlo Stanton is indisputably the worthy candidate for National League MVP honors. The 27-year-old behemoth’s campaign — which comprises of a .278 average, a whopping 57 home runs and 126 RBI in 155 games — has been utterly astounding, so the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA) voters would be hard-pressed to find another player who’s more deserving of the accolade. 

Or would they?

Although no player in baseball will surpass Stanton in the home run category by season’s end, Arizona Diamondbacks’ outfielder J.D. Martinez has crushed balls at a similar pace. Entering Wednesday night, the 30-year-old owns a .304/.379/.694 slashline with 44 homers and 103 RBI in just 115 games this season, and his 172 OPS+ ranks higher than Stanton’s mark of 164.

Glancing at those numbers, Martinez should stand out as a legitimate MVP candidate. Only problem is, he’s played in two leagues this year. 

Two weeks before the July 31st trade deadline, Martinez was traded from the American League’s Detroit Tigers to the D-Backs as a summer rental. Because of this, Martinez won’t receive the same acclaim or hardware as Stanton, due to a shortened campaign in both the AL and NL. But he’s made his time in Arizona count, as his 28 home runs in 58 games with the club have bolstered the D-Backs into a formidable lineup come October.

And there’s more good news for Martinez. This offseason, he will be eligible for free agency, and with the incredible source of power he’s displayed, he will assuredly sign a contract that’s worth a large sum of money.

So, would it make sense for the Yankees to pursue him?

THE CASE FOR:

Since his breakout season with the Tgers in 2014, Martinez has combined to hit 127 home runs with 349 RBI in the last four years. In 1,915 career at-bats between Detroit and Arizona, his slashline sits at .302/.366/.652, and his .694 slugging percentage in 2017 ranks first in baseball. That’s right, it’s higher than Stanton’s (.628), Aaron Judge’s (.621), and even Mike Trout’s (.629). Although Martinez has played less games than those other players (due to a foot injury he suffered during spring training which cost him all of April and a week in May), his 9.5 at-bats per home run also ranks first.

Martinez has predominantly played in right field, but his ability at the plate makes him a viable designated hitter — something the Yankees will be in search of again this winter. With Matt Holliday and Todd Frazier bound for free agency in November, Martinez could fill that void, and provide even more production in the heart of the Yankees’ lineup. While Yankee Stadium’s short porch in left field doesn’t particularly cater to Martinez as a right-handed bat, it’s still a hitting-friendly ballpark, and in 10 road games (39 AB) against the Yankees, he has hit three homers and two doubles with seven RBI.

If the designated hitter role isn’t for him, Martinez can be used as an outfielder, should the Yankees attempt move a veteran like Brett Gardner or Jacoby Ellsbury in the future. Martinez — who’s in his prime — will likely be offered a four or five-year contract worth well over $100 million, and if the price is right, it could make sense for the Yankees to pounce.

THE CASE AGAINST:

The Yankees are no stranger to the burden that comes with signing free agents aged 30 or older to hefty contracts (see: Alex Rodriguez), and the franchise is determined to be under the luxury tax threshold by 2019. This means New York may not spend any big money until baseball’s potentially historic free agent class of Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Clayton Kershaw arrives two winters from now. In keeping the checkbook shut, the Yankees would likely achieve their goal, as their tax rate would reset, saving them millions. 

Even if the Yankees choose not to bring back Holliday or Frazier, the designated hitter void could be filled internally. With a healthy Greg Bird at first base, perhaps Chase Headley sees more time at the plate than in the field. If Martinez was signed, New York would certainly find a way to make room for him in the outfield, but if the Yankees are content with an outfield arrangement of Judge, Gardner, Aaron Hicks/Ellsbury, then maybe Martinez isn’t worth the cash. Plus, the Yankees have high expectations for youngster Clint Frazier, who could become a stud in the coming seasons. 

If you want to connect with Tom Hanslin, email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @tomhanslin.

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