J.D. Martinez to 'take it slow' to get ready for Mets debut

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Sunday, March 24, 2024

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. --J.D. Martinez and the New York Mets finalized a $12 million, one-year contract on Saturday.

The 36-year-old designated hitter gets a $2.5 million signing bonus, $2 million this year and $7.5 million in deferred money, payable in $1.5 million installments each Jan. 15 from 2034-38.

"Fortunately enough, I found a place here with New York and one of those last-second-type things and it worked out," Martinez told reporters in Port St. Lucie, Florida. "I'm excited to be here. I know the guys are super excited to have me, and I'm super excited to just be in the clubhouse with them and I'm ready for the journey ahead of us."

Martinez hit .271 with 33 homers and 103 RBIs in just 113 games last year for the Los Angeles Dodgers, providing solid value on the one-year, $10 million contract he signed before the season. Back and groin problems limited his availability, but he added a National League All-Star selection to the five times he made it in the AL with Detroit and Boston.

He slots into the middle of the Mets' lineup and gives them another power hitter to pair with Pete Alonso. Both can become free agents after this season.

Martinez said Alonso was a strong advocate to bring him on board.

After waiting all spring to land a job, Martinez said he'll probably need at least 15 days to get ready for the season. So he won't break camp with the Mets in time for Opening Day on Thursday against Milwaukee.

"It kind of sucks. Obviously, I want to break with the team. I want to be there. I want to be there for Opening Day. That's a special thing to be a part of," Martinez said. "But I've got to get my body ready. I've got to have my spring training now and I've got to get ready for the season. The last thing I want to do is kind of just rush through it and get hurt. So I want to make sure I take it slow and build my body up to get back out there."

To open a roster spot for Martinez, the Mets designated right-hander Phil Bickford for assignment.

David Stearns, the team's new president of baseball operations, had insisted the Mets wanted to give youngsters Mark Vientos and Brett Baty plenty of at-bats this season rather than bring in a veteran at DH or third base. But now Martinez becomes the primary DH instead of Vientos, who could still share playing time at third with Baty, getting chances against left-handed pitching in particular.

Martinez said he and Vientos have a relationship that goes "way back" because they train at the same place. The veteran slugger said he encouraged Vientos not to get discouraged by the apparent loss of playing time because big league opportunities can always arise for talented players -- whether with the Mets or elsewhere.

"I understand his frustration," Martinez said.

Martinez has played the corner outfield spots only sparingly the past two seasons, but he has given every indication he can be a productive DH. Last season was the first time in Dodgers history the team had four players with 100 RBIs, with Martinez joining Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Max Muncy.

The 33 home runs for Martinez were his most since 2019, and his OPS of .893 represented his highest since that year.

Martinez began his career with Houston but blossomed after being released by the Astros and picked up by the Tigers in 2014. He hit a career-high 45 homers for Detroit and Arizona in 2017, then joined the Red Sox and hit 43 the following year, when Boston won its most recent World Series title.

Martinez was one of the top free agents left on the market. Left-hander Jordan Montgomery,another Scott Boras client, is still looking for a new team in the final days of spring training.

"Offseason was kind of a rollercoaster," Martinez said. "There's a lot of really good players out there that are in the same situation."

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