CAP CANA, Dominican Republic -- Sitting in a golf cart at the 11th Annual David Ortiz Golf Classic, the function's host got increasingly animated as he spoke.
For David Ortiz, the topic of J.D. Martinez hits home.
Before Martinez was the designated hitter who anchored the middle of the Red Sox' lineup in a World Series-winning season, Ortiz was that guy. Before Martinez put up un-Godly offensive numbers before sliding to fourth in the American League MVP voting because of his position, Ortiz was that guy.
The debate regarding how much Martinez should be appreciated isn't a new one. It's just when it comes to Ortiz there is a somewhat unique perspective.
"As a player, I won three championships being the DH. It seemed like it was hard for them to believe and have an appreciation. But now you have J.D., and what do you have to say? It was a lot of the same things," said Ortiz, whose charity event once again benefitted the David Ortiz Children's Foundation. "The way they look at it sucks."
Ortiz's contention isn't all that different than those who were close to Martinez throughout the 2018 season, citing aspects of his existence that can't be measured by the MVP voters go-to statistic, Wins Above Replacement. The former slugger can relate, having led the American League in home runs, RBI, OPS and slugging percentage in 2016 only to finish sixth for the award.
And then there is, of course, the dynamic both players brought to the lineup, as the Red Sox' 2017 offensive downturn when neither were around portrayed.
"How about if I tell you J.D. made Mookie (Betts) better. He made (Xander) Bogerts better. Every lineup needs a guy like him so he takes pressure off the rest of the guys so the guys can be better. Look at the 2017 season, look at the 2016 season and then look at the 2018 season, then you tell me. Be my guest," Ortiz said. "Sabermetrics might be 85 percent of the game, but without the 15 percent that isn’t measured, if you don’t get that then that 85 percent doesn’t mean (expletive). That 15 percent is the heart, the hunger, what matters to you and what is important to you. To me, J.D. Martinez is that difference. He was and he is going to continue being that difference.
"Baseball players, we feed off each other based on what we see and the way J.D. Martinez approach the game … I remember the first day I came to camp, after watching him take batting practice I said I had never seen anything like this before. I played with Manny Ramirez, who was one of the best right-handed hitters I had ever seen and I played against Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera who are two of the best hitters that ever played the game. J.D. Martinez, he was doing something I couldn’t understand. How does somebody hit to the opposite field with that much power over and over and over. It was hard for me to get that. For me it was beautiful. I know when you’re capable of doing something like that pitchers are going to be miserable. I saw all of that in spring training. It’s a different language. I saw it coming because I’m a hitter and I know how to play it out. But if you don’t give credit to J.D. Martinez, not any type of credit. I’m talking about the real credit.
"OK, Mookie Betts was the MVP, but you were the runner-up. That’s the type of credit he needs to get. Not this other (expletive). Come on, man. I never understand it.
"You need the center of attention. You need the middle of the order guy. The thing is that J.D. Martinez became a leader of that ballclub right away. I remember everybody watching my approach and the smart players they see that and they start chasing it. And you know what will happen? Their game is going to get batter. That’s exactly the same thing that happened with J.D. Martinez. It’s enjoyable watching him take batting practice. I was drooling just watching this guy hit batting practice. These numbers he put this year, I’m not surprised. And then you hear about how the guy who worked at it."
Ultimately, the voters' view of the designated hitter's spot might not change, but the Red Sox' valuing of such of a player may very well trend upwards. That is a reality that will be undoubtedly uncovered when it comes time to address Martinez's contract situation, which currently allows him to opt-out after the 2019 season. Considering the annual value of his deal goes from $23.75 million in his first three years to $19.375 million in the two, that's another conversation that is around the corner.
"I don’t care about what anybody says, with WAR and this and that. If you don’t have a guy like J.D. Martinez in your lineup you don’t win the World Series," Ortiz said. "If we don’t have him in that lineup there will be no World Series. You can go around and ask anybody. That’s what MVP means. I know how hard that is and I don’t think they do."