MLB free agents 2017-18: J.D. Martinez worth more than Jay Bruce, but is he a $200M man?

A free-agent question came up Wednesday night: Is J.D. Martinez worth twice as much as Jay Bruce?

The context for that query: the reported starting bids for each player (per ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick). Martinez supposedly is seen by agent Scott Boras as being worth $200 million, give or take; Bruce (represented by Matt Sosnick) is said to be looking for between $80 million and $90 million over five years.

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Martinez vs. Bruce is a natural comp: They’re power-hitting right fielders who are close in age (Martinez will enter his age 30 season in 2018, Bruce his age 31 season) and are coming off productive walk years. A three-year review, however, gives Martinez (and thus Boras) a big edge.

The difference is stark based on just four basic stats: fWAR, home run percentage, weighted on-base average and weighted runs created-plus:

Martinez

YEAR fWAR HR% wOBA wRC+
2017 3.8 9.2 .430 166
2016 1.8 4.3 .384 141
2015 5.0 5.8 .372 136

Bruce

YEAR fWAR HR% wOBA wRC+
2017 2.7 5.8 .350 118
2016 0.9 5.6 .340 111
2015 0.2 4.0 .309 93

Martinez has been the superior offensive player even with him being injured the past two seasons. Cumulative WAR (10.6 to 3.8) says he is about 2.8 times as valuable as Bruce. Depending on how the respective markets develop this winter (the more plausible development is that Martinez’s will inflate and Bruce’s will deflate), that spread might be realized or exceeded.

But can we (and, more importantly, Boras) make the case that Martinez belongs in the $200 million-plus club? Only eight such pacts have been given to hitters in baseball history, per Baseball Prospectus, and five of those were given to players who were eligible to become free agents (the other three were extensions). Using the same criteria as above, we list how each walk-year player fared the season before his megadeal:

PLAYER,YEAR fWAR HR% wOBA wRC+
Alex Rodriguez, 2000 9.5 6.1 .431 158
Rodriguez, 2007 9.6 7.6 .445 175
Albert Pujols, 2011 4.0 5.7 .384 147
Prince Fielder, 2011 4.7 5.5 .410 160
Robinson Cano, 2013 5.8 4.0 .384 143

MORE: Ranking the top 101 MLB free agents for 2018

Martinez’s walk-year fWAR is lower than everyone else’s, but his other stats match up well.

Boras had to know all this when he told the Arizona Republic this week that Martinez’s 2017 season put him ahead of his other clients when they were Martinez’s age. The list included Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Jayson Werth and Justin Upton.

“He’s done things that few players have done,” Boras told the Republic’s Nick Piecoro.

Upton is a fun digression. He’s due to make $106 million over the next five seasons after agreeing to an extension with the Angels. He was better than Bruce this year statistically: a 5.0 fWAR, 5.5 HR%, .378 wOBA and 137 wRC+. That line is almost identical to Martinez’s 2015 stats.

A new comp, then, can be Martinez > Upton > Bruce. Boras is trying to put lots of carrots between Martinez and the other two. Our rudimentary math makes the argument that it’s a reasonable ask.

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