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Why the Rockies should sign J.D. Martinez

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The free agent slugger would be a perfect fit for both Coors Field and the current construction of the Rockies roster.

Just Dingers. That’s not just the nickname of free agent outfielder J.D. Martinez, it’s kind of what he does at the plate.

Over the past four seasons, Martinez has clubbed 128 home runs for the Tigers and Diamondbacks, hitting .300/.362/.574 with a 148 wRC+ in the process, and yet a week into February he is still without a team for the 2018 season.

That is where the Colorado Rockies come in. As Spring Training approaches, the Rockies face a lot of question marks in their corner outfield spots. Do they trust veterans Ian Desmond and Gerardo Parra to return to their best and provide a platoon option, or do they put their faith in the health of David Dahl and/or a breakout for Raimel Tapia?

Aside from the questions about health and performance, there is the fact that four of the five outfielders currently projected to make the Opening Day roster, Parra, Dahl, Tapia and center fielder Charlie Blackmon, hit left handed. The Rockies sure look like a team that could use a 30-year-old right fielder who bats right handed and just hit 29 home runs in 62 games with Arizona to end the 2017 season.

in addition to strengthening the Rockies corner outfield situation, Martinez would also provide a boost to an offense that ranked 27th in baseball with a wRC+ of 87 in 2017 and has yet to really be upgraded this offseason. The Rockies had just four hitters with a wRC+ better than 100 last season, two of whom, Jonathan Lucroy and Mark Reynolds, are no longer with the team. By contrast, Martinez had a wRC+ of 166 last season and has been better than 135 in each of the last four seasons.

Martinez is not just a great hitter. He’s also a great hitter with a profile primed to succeed playing at altitude. Martinez hit the ball in the air 43.2 percent of the time in 2017 and led the league with a whopping 49% hard-hit rate, almost three percentage points more than any other hitter.

Looking at their respective careers, Martinez is actually a quite similar hitter to Nolan Arenado. Here’s a look at some of their batted ball numbers:

Career Stats

Player BB% K% LD% GB% FB% HR/FB Hard-Hit%
Player BB% K% LD% GB% FB% HR/FB Hard-Hit%
Arenado 7.00 14.90 20.90 36.50 42.60 14.90 35.00
Martinez 8.00 25.20 21.20 41.00 37.90 19.40 39.00
Stats via FanGraphs

Martinez hits a fewer fly balls than Arenado, but they tend to fly over the fence more often. Martinez also strikes out more than Arenado, but that says as much about Arenado as it does Martinez.

There is still an elephant in the room, however, which would be the cost of adding Martinez financially. Martinez will certainly fetch a hefty contract, though as we saw with Todd Frazier’s two-year, $17 million deal with the Mets, he will likely have to settle for less than he anticipated getting at the beginning of the offseason.

From the Rockies side of things, according to Cot’s Contracts their 2018 Opening Day payroll currently sits just north of $131 million after ending the 2017 season with a payroll right around $156 million. That’s a difference of $25 million, or as it so happens, the rough cost of one J.D. Martinez.

Another concern would be the length of a potential deal, but it seems the Rockies, and about 29 other teams, have made it pretty clear that very long-term deals are just something that isn’t going to happen this offseason. If something like a four-year, $100 million deal would be enough to get Martinez in purple pinstripes, it would seem like a no-brainer.

With so many teams trying to limit payroll and tank for better draft picks and several heavy hitters trying desperately to get under the luxury tax threshold, this is the perfect opportunity for a mid-market team like the Rockies to make a splash that would likely help persuade a certain franchise third baseman to commit to staying in Colorado for the long haul. What better way to do it than to sign the premier position player on the market?