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D-backs’ J.D. Martinez among the most coveted free agents this winter

(AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

The MLB Free Agency period began Monday when players began to negotiate with new teams, and three national sites ranked Arizona Diamondbacks free agent J.D. Martinez among the top players available.

Ben Reiter of Sports Illustrated and Ryan Fagan of Sporting News have Martinez at the top of their lists. ESPN insider Keith Law has starting pitcher Yu Darvish, outfielder Lorenzo Cain, shortstop Zack Cozart, starting pitcher Jake Arrieta and first baseman/catcher Carlos Santana ahead of Martinez.

The 30-year-old spent the second half of 2017 with the Diamondbacks after being traded from the Detroit Tigers on July 18, and his open-market value skyrocketed during his time in Arizona. He hit .302 with 29 home runs and 65 RBI in 62 games, helping propel the Diamondbacks to a playoff berth for the first time since 2011.

Reiter believes Martinez could land with the World Series champion Houston Astros in 2018.

The Astros cut Martinez near the end of spring training of 2014, but only after he’d passed through waivers and all 29 other clubs declined to pick him up. Since then, he’s posted the seventh-best OPS (.936) of any hitter in the majors. He’s a legitimate superstar, albeit without the profile of one, and the Astros could correct their mistake by bringing him back to fill the likely departing Carlos Beltran’s spot in the lineup.

The Diamondbacks would probably love to re-sign Martinez. But after Arizona exercised its 2018 team option on Daniel Descalso last Thursday, the team currently has over $62 million committed to five players for 2018. In addition, 14 players are eligible for salary arbitration — a list bigger any other National League team — and 11 other players eligible for free agency.

Martinez could land with the Boston Red Sox, according to Alex Speier of the Boston Globe. Other possible fits could include the San Francisco Giants, Los Angeles Angels and St. Louis Cardinals, according to Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com.

Law did not think as highly of Martinez compared to Reiter and Fagan. He said if all Martinez had to do was hit, “he might be a six-win player and the best free agent on the market.”

He’s more than just a home run hitter, although I’m sure that’s how he’ll be sold this offseason. He’s entering his age-30 season and has negative defensive value, to the point where I’d look at him as a primary DH who can play left field on an occasional basis, and hope for some 5-WAR seasons at the start of any long-term deal. He is the type of player who, over MLB history, has declined faster than players who play defense well or are better athletes, so while the market will probably give him five years, the end of the deal will probably see a big drop-off in production.

Morosi included the Diamondbacks on his list of landing spots for Martinez, but the chances of the outfielder re-signing will likely hinge on what financial sacrifices the front office is willing or not willing to make.

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