J.D. Martinez could fill big void at DH for Padres

Jul 7, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter J.D. Martinez (28) hits a solo home run in the second inning against the Los Angeles Angels at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

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Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The free agency frenzy has gone as cold as the Pacific Ocean in January. Could the Padres pounce on a power hitter to slot in at DH?

The Padres still have a host of needs. Centerfield still is as murky as the day the Padres traded Trent Grisham along with Juan Soto to New York more than two months ago. The starting rotation is full of question marks below the top three. The bench is barren of MLB experience.

Plus, they need a host of lefties on the mound and with the bat. So why would the Padres sign J.D. Martinez, who would fill exactly none of these needs?

Because designated hitter is still a thing in the National League and the Padres’ options are, frankly, undesirable. Some assumed Manny Machado would man the DH slot while he ramped up his throwing schedule after elbow surgery, but he seems ahead of schedule. All signs point to him playing third base on Opening Day.

If Machado does indeed start the season at his rightful spot of third base, that leaves someone like Matthew Batten, Eguy Rosario, or a non-roster invitee manning the DH spot.

Let’s not forget that Martinez was an All-Star last season with the Dodgers at age 35. In fact, he’s made five straight All-Star teams between his time in Boston and Los Angeles. The last three seasons, he has averaged a .278 batting average, 26 homers, .847 OPS, and 126 OPS+.

Insert those kind of numbers into a top-heavy Padres lineup and it becomes much more formidable.

His 33 home runs and 134 OPS+ last season were the highest for him since 2019. Only Juan Soto had a better season than that among Padres hitters last season. Now he’s gone.

Last season, the Florida native’s expected slugging, average exit velocity, barrel rate, hard-hit rate, and sweet spot rate all ranked no worse than the 96th percentile.

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Indeed, he is a right-handed, full-time DH. On the surface, the fit may seem strange. The Padres’ money may be well-suited elsewhere. However, strictly at the plate, you could argue that there is no better mildly affordable free agent option for the Padres than Martinez.

Cody Bellinger is way out of their price range. Matt Chapman isn’t a fit as a true third-baseman. Who else is a better pure hitter on the market after them than Martinez?

Yes, the Padres have self-proclaimed “budget constraints.” However, they still have $20 million of penalty-free payroll to play with. Martinez, while not cheap, would not suck up the rest of the available money for San Diego.

FanGraphs projects Martinez to command $12 million in 2024. Perhaps the Padres can find a way to get it close to $10 million, given the frozen market. He played for $10 million last season.

That still gives them a little room for a league-averaging type signing for the rotation or the outfield.

In an offseason where the hype surrounding the Padres was more about who they lost than who they acquired, bringing in a six-time All-Star coming off a 33-homer season on a one-year deal would be a huge boost in morale.

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