Rosenthal: Why JD Martinez took less from the Dodgers and the latest on the trade market

The free agent market always produces certain oddities. Consider this 2022 comparison of two right-handers who recently switched teams as if they’d been traded for each other.

Player A: Age 38, 13 hours, 116 OPS+, 532 PAs

Player B: Age 35, 16 HRs, 117 OPS+, 596 PAs

Player A is Justin Turner, who has agreed a two-year, $21.7 million contract with the Red Sox. Player B is JD Martinez, who has agreed a one-year, $10 million contract with the Dodgers.

How is it possible that Turner signed a contract for more than double Martinez considering both offer minimal defensive value at this stage in their respective careers?

Martinez’s agent Scott Boras pointed to the hitter’s relationship with former Red Sox teammate Mookie Betts and Dodgers hitting instructor Robert Van Scoyoc, who helped Martinez revamp his swing after the 2013 season.

Not only did Martinez go for less than Turner, but he also went for Josh Bell (two years, $33 million), Michael Brantley (one year, $12 million), and Joey Gallo (one year, $11 million).

“[Dodger’s President of Baseball Operations]Andrew Friedman and Mookie were like college coaches looking for the big recruit,” Boras said. “JD has been fully aware of the recent signings and took $6-$7 million short of his value.

“He wanted to win and he wanted (to hone his skills). He felt the Dodgers were the best team to help him achieve those goals. He made it clear to them that he is determined to play well in the coming seasons and to find his true worth.”

Rays, Jays were with Brantley

The day the Rays announced their signing of right-hander Zach Eflin, baseball operations president Erik Neander almost signaled his interest in free-agent outfielder Michael Brantley.

“I think if we add another player, that’s a rebound candidate or a breakthrough candidate. I don’t know how much appeal it has compared to someone who has a lot more consistency and a recent track record. ‘ Neander said.

“Because I think that’s probably what this group needs most, someone who has proven that and frankly for the younger players, can take some of the attention and expectations from them.”

As it turns out, the Rays were actually going after Brantley, who turns 36 on May 15 and is a .296 hitter in 54 career postseason games. So did the Blue Jays, who also targeted Brantley when he was last a free agent two years ago.

Brantley returned to the Astros this winter on a two-year, $32 million contract. This time, he agreed to a one-year, $12 million deal with $4 million in incentives. Presumably, the Astros are confident that Brantley will pass his investigation. He underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a labrum tear in his right shoulder in August and missed the rest of the season.

Where are the shops?

In recent years, I’ve been among those who complained that too many teams are rebuilding and damaging the competitive integrity of the sport. Well, we can finally report some progress on that front. Three heads of baseball operations attributed the slow trade market in recent days to the number of clubs shunning veterans-for-prospect deals while trying to build controversial rosters.

“That’s the biggest dynamic in the game,” said one executive. “We can’t use our prospects to get players. With a few teams we could, but it’s not enough. You need enough teams that have major league players. That’s definitely hanging up, definitely.”

The new collective agreement introduced a draft lottery, but otherwise did not seem to go far enough to stimulate competition. However, one aspect of the CBA – expanding the postseason from 10 to 12 teams – perhaps gave clubs more incentive than expected. Two sub-90 winning outfits, the Phillies and Padres, advanced to the National League Championship Series.

According to one executive, the Reds, Pirates and A’s are the only teams truly in rebuild mode; the Nationals, he said, don’t behave quite like that. The trade market is so quiet that not even Jerry Dipoto, General Manager of the Mariners, one of the game’s leading dealmakers, was able to stir up any activity at the Winter Meetings. Dipoto said the Mariners made a few calls scouting for potential games and received feedback from one club, but outside of that club teams appeared to be focused on free agents.

The trade market is likely to accelerate as the number of free agents dwindles. The biggest deal yet was the three-team, nine-player extravagance that sent Sean Murphy from the A’s to the Braves and William Contreras from the Braves to the Brewers.


Jorge Mateo (Tommy Gilligan / USA Today Sports)

Mateo of Orioles on the way?

According to major league sources, the Orioles received inquiries about shortstop Jorge Mateo almost immediately after the Cubs settled with Dansby Swanson, the last of the big four free agents at the position.

The Twins, Braves, Red Sox and Dodgers all lost open market shortstops. Mateo, who is entering his season aged 28, could be an affordable and potentially attractive choice for interested clubs, a player whose value as an athletic defender and stolen base threat is only likely to rise if the league shifts restrictions in 2023, larger bases and introduce pick-up rules.

The Orioles like the idea of ​​pairing their right-handed infielders Mateo and Ramón Urías with their left-handed batting options Gunnar Henderson and Adam Frazier. The added depth on the second, short, and third allows them to not only mix and match, but also give each player ample rest. On the other hand, the O’s will also have three prospects in midfield in Triple A, Jordan Westburg, Joey Ortiz and Connor Norby. The team will eventually move some of their infielders.

So Mateo would appear expendable in the right store. He ranked in the top five defensemen in both Defensive Runs Saved and Outs Above Average last season and is expected to make a relatively meager $1.8 million in the first of his three years as an arbitrator. The downside: His adjusted OPS last season was 19 percent below the league average, despite leading the American League with 35 stolen bases (in 44 attempts) and 13 homers.

Latest on Conforto

Some of the teams considering free-agent outfielder Michael Conforto are concerned about his ability to throw at full power, citing the surgery he underwent on his right shoulder last April. If Conforto needs time as a designated batsman, he may be less attractive to clubs who want more of a full-time outfielder.

However, Boras said Conforto is throwing to 150ft, putting him in front of players just preparing for the season. Rangers, who are looking for a left field hitter, are among teams with interest, along with the Mets and Blue Jays, major league sources said.

Another left-handed batting option for these clubs: David Peralta, who at 35 is more than 5 1/2 years older than Conforto but remains an above-average hitter with a reputation as a winning player.

In general, left-handed outfielders are fewer than in the past. Aside from Juan Soto, Peralta and Andrew Benintendi were the best traded as of the reporting date. One executive speculated that the shortage helped the Red Sox give Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida $90 million.

Around the horn

• Padres general manager AJ Preller admitted he’s received trade requests for infielder Kim Ha-Seong and center fielder Trent Grisham since free agent Xander Bogaerts joined the team. However, Preller seems reluctant to take a step.

“With the signing of the Bogaerts we want to play this position group together,” said Preller. “We like the flexibility and diversity it gives our team.”

• The Rangers, like the Orioles, boast a surplus of prospects in the infield, giving them an opportunity to trade in for veteran help by the deadline, if not sooner.

Ezequiel Durán, one of the infielders they took over from the Yankees in the Joey Gallo trade, plays a lot of outfielders in the Dominican Winter League. Josh Smith, another player in the Gallo business, could turn into a super utility guy, the Rangers version of Chris Taylor.

Also on the system are second baseman Justin Foscue, 23, the 14th pick in the 2020 draft from Mississippi State, and Luisangel Acuña, 20, younger brother of Ronald Acuña Jr. According to MLB.com, Foscue and Luisangel Acuña are the No .5 and 7 of the team.

• The Brewers sent outfielder Esteury Ruiz to the A’s so they could reach the Braves’ William Contreras in the three-team Murphy trade. It wouldn’t be a surprise if they got another young outfielder to pitch.

Four of the top five Brewers in MLB.com’s rankings are outfielders. Topping the list is Jackson Chourio, an 18-year-old from Venezuela who is almost certainly untouchable. Right behind him is Sal Frelick, the 15th pick in the 2021 draft and another player the Brewers are unlikely to move.

Interested teams may have a better shot at players #3 and #5 on the Brewers’ list: Joey Wiemer, a fourth-rounder from the University of Cincinnati in 2020, or Garrett Mitchell, the 20th pick that same year.

• Finally, the Diamondbacks are seeking a right-handed infielder in trade talks involving their left-handed infielders. They were also in the mix for a free agent who would fit their desired profile, Brandon Drury.

As always, one phone call can change everything. However, no trading is expected before the new year.

(Top Photo by JD Martinez: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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