J.D. Martinez of the Dodgers celebrates his solo home run...

J.D. Martinez of the Dodgers celebrates his solo home run against the Diamondbacks during the fourth inning in NLDS Game 2 at Dodger Stadium on Oct. 9, 2023, in Los Angeles. Credit: Getty Images/Harry How

TAMPA, Fla. — All offseason and throughout spring training, David Stearns warned to never say never — and Thursday night, the Mets finally said yes.

They agreed to a one-year, $12 million contract with J.D. Martinez, pending a physical, people familiar with the deal said. That marked their first major offensive addition since the end of last season, a boon to their lineup and thus their playoff chances just a week before Opening Day.

Martinez gives the Mets a legitimate, established, productive option at designated hitter for the first time in three seasons since that rule permanently came to the National League. It also answers the question of who will bat behind Pete Alonso in the lineup after manager Carlos Mendoza had toyed in recent weeks with a variety of options, none of them close to perfect.

In the immediate aftermath of the agreement, the Mets still were working through whether Martinez, who has not been in a spring training camp, will be ready for the season opener next Thursday, a source said.

The ripple effects of this move include Mark Vientos probably getting squeezed out — at least at the start of the season — of the consistent opportunity that Stearns so often has said he wants to give to younger players. The Mets still have room on the roster for Vientos if they want to carry him, but it would be more of a bench role, not the near-everyday at-bats he previously was lined up for.

That illustrates well the difficulty of the balance the Mets are trying to strike in 2024: attempting to win while also preparing for better seasons in the future. Martinez helps now but prevents them from fully exploring other players for next year and beyond.

Such a move was possible all along, however, with Stearns noting on Feb. 12 — the first day of spring training — that he and team owner Steve Cohen remained open to adding a hitter, especially if prices dropped.

“We’re always trying to evaluate opportunity and understand the risk and reward and the tradeoffs,” Stearns, the president of baseball operations, said then. “When you add a more established player, it’s going to by nature take playing time away from younger players, and we have to walk that balance. That’s what we’re trying to do.

“It’s important for us to learn about some of these younger players. When you have players that have pretty consistently performed at the Triple-A level, at some point, you have to be willing to give them opportunities at the major-league level, understanding it may not go perfectly.”

Stearns in recent weeks has qualified that sentiment by saying those players don’t necessarily need to get a chance out of the gate, just at some point during the season.

Martinez, a 36-year-old veteran of 13 major-league seasons who long has been a highly regarded hitting mind, able to help teammates as much as he produces at the plate, spent last year with the Dodgers.

He put together his fifth consecutive All-Star season (excepting the pandemic-shortened 2020) with his usual numbers: 33 home runs, 103 RBIs, a .271 average, .321 OBP and .572 slugging percentage.

The Mets’ DHs had a .217/.309/.391 slash line with 27 homers and 83 RBIs last season.

Martinez will receive a $2 million signing bonus and $2.5 million salary, a source said. The other $7.5 million will be deferred.

Benefiting from that arrangement: the Mets. Having already surpassed the highest luxury-tax threshold, they have to pay an additional 110% surcharge on every dollar they add to the payroll. That means, at full value, Martinez’s deal would have cost them $25.2 million — the $12 million plus a $13.2 million tax.

However, because nearly two-thirds of the dollar is deferred, Martinez’s luxury tax hit will be between $4.5 million and $12 million, thus a smaller tax.

Although his deal was far smaller in magnitude, Martinez continues the Mets’ trend under Cohen of agreeing with major clients of agent Scott Boras. Max Scherzer, Brandon Nimmo and Carlos Correa (whose deal fell apart before it became official) are the other big ones.

Cohen, who has lots of money, and Boras, who loves owners who love to spend money, have been open about their affection for each other since Cohen bought the Mets in late 2020. The hedge-fund multibillionaire is more than happy to engage directly with the sport’s most powerful agent, who is known to negotiate directly with owners.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts went on the record last month in saying he doesn’t talk to Boras, preferring to leave that to his head of baseball operations.

Posed with that topic last week, Cohen could not relate.

“He’s missing the fun,” Cohen said of Ricketts. “I have a good relationship with Scott, and I think I add value to that relationship with David. I don’t see that changing. If it works for Tom, that’s great. I’ll do it my way. I have a great relationship with Scott. I enjoy the conversation.”

BAT MAN

A sampling of six-time All-Star J.D. Martinez's career offensive numbers:

Games 1,522

Hits 1,630

Doubles 366

HRs  315

RBIs 1,002

BA  .287

OPB .350

SLG  .524

OPS .874

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