How J.D. Martinez Changes the New York Mets Plans for 2024

Within a week of Opening Day, the Mets landed their biggest fish of the offseason, signing J.D. Martinez to bolster their starting lineup.

ST PETERSBURG, FLORIDA - MAY 27: J.D. Martinez #28 of the Los Angeles Dodgers celebrates with Jason Heyward #23 after scoring in the fourth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on May 27, 2023 in St Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Julio Aguilar/Getty Images)

Ever since David Stearns took over as the President of Baseball Operations for the New York Mets, he has discussed a delicate balance they are trying to strike between trying to win now, and focusing in building a sustainable winner in the future.

This balance was never more in conflict than when it came to addressing the need to add a big bat in the middle of their lineup.

Once the Mets signed Harrison Bader to improve their defense in center field, the only positions where they could upgrade were third base and designated hitter. The problem is that the Mets had a pair of 24-year-olds in Brett Baty and Mark Vientos who were in line to get at-bats at those two positions to continue their development.

Throughout spring training it appeared like the Mets were perfectly okay with going into the season and seeing what they had in the kids. Until they were less than a week away from Opening Day and J.D. Martinez fell into their laps on sweetheart one-year deal.

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Too Good of a Deal to Pass Up on J.D. Martinez

When the news first came out on J.D. Martinez’s contract, it was presented as a one-year, $12 million deal. That alone represented a discount when you consider that Justin Turner signed a one-year, $13 million this offseason, coming off a season that was nowhere near as good as the one Martinez posted in Dodger Blue.

Then further details of the contract were reported by Andy Martino of SNY.

Martinez will be getting paid $4.5 million by Steve Cohen and the New York Mets this year.

James McCann is getting paid $3.5 million more by the Mets ($8 million in retained salary) to be Adley Rutschman’s backup catcher for the Baltimore Orioles.

The contract has heavy deferrals, which took the present money value of this deal down to just under $9 million. This has massive implications on the Mets as a luxury tax spending team, who owe a 110% tax on every dollar they spend from this point forward.

At $12 million, Martinez would have cost over $25 million this year. With a present money value of around $9 million, the cost is less than $19 million.

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More importantly, the Mets maintain ultimate flexibility since this was only a one-year deal. This allows them to revisit their DH situation next offseason when Pete Alonso becomes a free agent, and after watching their farm system develop for another year.

Meanwhile, they add the best protection Alonso has ever had in the Mets lineup, a six-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger, who is a perennial threat to drive in over 100 runs.

Impact of Martinez on the Mets Lineup

The New York Mets have not had a solid DH since the universal DH was put in place back during the 2021 season. The most production they ever got was from Daniel Vogelbach in the second half of 2022, and he was merely a platoon bat that still left the Mets vulnerable to left-handed pitching.

Insert Martinez. Who it would be an insult to call a lefty masher, because it ignores the fact that he mashes right-handed pitching too.

A career .287/.350/.524 hitter with over 300 home runs and 1,000 RBIs, Martinez is coming off a fantastic age-35 season with the Dodgers. He hit .271/.321/.572, with 33 home runs and 27 doubles in just 113 games played. Martinez drove in 103 runs and had a 135 wRC+.

Martinez would have lead the Mets in wRC+, slugging, OPS and would have come in second in batting average and extra-base hits. Despite the fact that Alonso had 46 home runs, Martinez had more extra-base hits in 41 less games. Lindor led the team with 66 extra-base hits.

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Not only were the stats there for Martinez, but the data backs up his performance, with a Baseball Savant page that is blood red.

Martinez consistently hit the ball harder than 98% of the league last year, finishing in the 98th percentile in average exit velocity, Barrel% and HardHit%.

He did chase and strikeout a bit more than you would like, but any team would take that from a guy who has not hit below .270 (2020 excluded) since his first season with the Detroit Tigers back in 2014.

Now with Martinez in place, the Mets will run out a starting lineup that is pretty deadly, particularly when you focus in on the first five hitters in their lineup.

2024 Projected Mets Opening Day Lineup
1. Brandon Nimmo – LF
2. Francisco Lindor – SS
3. Pete Alonso – 1B
4. J.D. Martinez – DH
5. Jeff McNeil – 2B
6. Francisco Alvarez – C
7. Starling Marte – RF
8. Brett Baty – 3B
9. Harrison Bader – CF

Prior to this addition, there was a chance the Mets would have started the season with Jeff McNeil batting cleanup, which shows their clear lack of power and protection for Alonso. Now Martinez fills that role and lengthens out the lineup greatly.

A top four of Nimmo, Lindor, Alonso and Martinez is up their with any lineup that will be contending for a Wild Card spot in the National League. Now with McNeil, Alvarez and Marte following up that top four, the Mets have a deep team that can produce runs top-to-bottom.

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Obviously the Mets still need some positive regression from McNeil and Marte, who are coming off down years and Alvarez must continue his ascension, but this team looks so much better with Martinez in place.

Furthermore, there is way less pressure on Brett Baty to produce at third base, and Vientos either gets pushed to the bench or to Triple-A, making this team deeper as well.

Impact on the Future of Mark Vientos

If you read the room in Port St. Lucie on Friday, it is fair to assume that there will be a lot of happy faces with one exception. Mark Vientos is the big loser in this scenario, as his spot in the starting lineup was just claimed by one of the best DH’s in baseball.

Now Vientos is suddenly in a competition with Baty for reps at third base, but in that battle he won’t be favored either.

While an argument can be made that Vientos was better than Baty last year, the latter was once a consensus top-30 prospect in all of baseball. Baty is better with the glove and is also having a better spring.

Since the calendar has flipped to May, each youngster has showcased their power, as they are the two home run leaders in camp for the Mets. Vientos leads the team with four, but the rest of his numbers pale in comparison to Baty.

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Across 12 games played in March, Baty is 10-for-34, slashing .294/.358/.588 with three home runs and a double. He has also cut down his strikeouts, having only been set down five times, compared to drawing four walks.

Meanwhile during that same span, Vientos is 10-for-42 (.214/.250/.548), with four home runs and two doubles. Along with his problems getting on-base (two walks), Vientos has struck out 16 times in his 42 at-bats, which is an alarming 36% strikeout rate.

With no Martinez in place, Vientos would have gotten the opportunity to hit through those woes in the regular season and showcase his light-tower power on the big stage.

Now, there is every chance he ends up right back in Triple-A Syracuse, where he has spent 173 games over the past three seasons.

The Mets could opt to keep Vientos with the big league club, where he could serve as the first bat off the bench, or could even platoon with Baty over at third base. Being on the short-side of a platoon, with limited DH at-bats available is not the best thing for his development though.

Instead, the Mets may choose to send Vientos down, where he can continue to work on his defense at third base and stay in a rhythm offensively. Martinez missed nearly 50 games last year and has a history of back issues, so you never know when Vientos could see his number called.

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Ultimately while this was the worst thing for Vientos, the Mets could not prioritize the development of one player over their entire team, especially when the cost became so affordable.

This ends up being an absolute masterclass by David Stearns, as he put himself in a position of leverage by waiting out the market and sticking to his guns on being willing to go into the season relying on his youth. The Mets viewed this as a win-win situation in negotiations.

Either they got their guy at DH, or they got to see what they had in-house for the betterment of the team long-term. Martinez clearly wanted to play with the Mets over whatever other offers he had on the table, and in the end, took a relative discount to come to New York.

Now the Mets get to a shot of adrenaline in that clubhouse right before Opening Day.

We will see if it is enough to get them off to a hot start in what is sure to be a contentious race in the National League this season.