Adding more veteran depth to their lineup on Saturday, the Dodgers agreed to a one-year, $10 million contract with designated hitter JD Martinez, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation who are not authorized to speak publicly.
The deal, which is pending a physical transaction, is the latest short-term, low-cost move the Dodgers — who have passed the top of the free agent market despite freeing up more than $100 million in payroll this winter — hope. will prove to have high potential in 2023.
Martinez offers such potential. The 35-year-old, five-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger Award winner, hit .274 last year with 16 home runs and 62 RBIs.
That accounted for a .790 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, which scored well above the league average. However, it was also Martinez’s lowest in a full season (excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020) since 2013. Martinez also cooled off during the second half of the season, when he hit just .233 with a .701 OPS.
The Dodgers have loved Martinez for a while. They made an attempt to trade for him by last summer’s deadline, but were unwilling to meet Boston’s asking price.
Now they will add him to a lineup that lost Trea Turner and Cody Bellinger in free agency, and could still see current free agent Justin Turner leave, though the club has retained interest in reuniting with their longtime third baseman .
Martinez has other ties to the Dodgers organization.
Co-hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc was instrumental in the early part of Martinez’s career. While privately instructing, Van Scoyoc helped reshape Martinez’s swing, turning the then floundering slugger into one of the sport’s most prolific power hitters.
Martinez is also a former teammate of Dodgers right fielder Mookie Betts. In 2018, they were the top two hitters of a Red Sox team that defeated the Dodgers in the World Series. Before his stint in Boston, Martinez played part of one season with the Arizona Diamondbacks, hitting four home runs in a September 2017 game against the Dodgers.
Martinez, who finished fourth in American League MVP voting in 2018, has seen his stats decline in recent years.
His OPS, batting average, and home run and RBI totals have fallen in every full season since then. He also had one of the higher strikeout and whiff percentages in the majors last season and was in the top third of both qualified big league hitters.
Still, his presence should bolster the Dodgers’ ever-evolving roster for 2023.
Only three of the club’s current hitters had better OPS than Martinez last season. He also offers insurance in case Justin Turner isn’t retained – which seems like a greater possibility after Martinez’s signing – or rookie Miguel Vargas struggles in what should be his first full MLB campaign.
With Martinez on the books, the Dodgers’ estimated luxury tax salary is $210 million, according to Fangraphs’ Roster Resource database.
That leaves the team $23 million shy of the league’s first tax threshold. Given that most of the winter’s top free agents have been acquired — including shortstop Dansby Swanson, who the Dodgers had some interest in before he reportedly agreed to a seven-year, $177 million deal with the Chicago Cubs earlier Saturday afternoon — it seems it’s increasingly likely the team won’t cross the league’s first tax threshold, which would mark the first time since 2020 that it wouldn’t be on the hook for tax penalties.
Instead, the Dodgers have turned to less expensive veterans like Noah Syndergaard, Shelby Miller, Jason Heyward and, as of Saturday, Martinez, to try to replenish a roster that’s undergoing constant transition this offseason.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.