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Friendship with Mookie Betts wasn’t only factor in J.D. Martinez signing with Dodgers

J.D. Martinez celebrates his grand slam against the Astros during Game 2 of the ALCS in 2021.
J.D. Martinez celebrates his grand slam against the Astros during Game 2 of the ALCS in 2021. Martinez signed with the Dodgers in the offseason on a one-year deal.
(David J. Phillip / Associated Press)
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The relationships with former teammate Mookie Betts and old hitting coach Robert Van Scoyoc certainly helped.

But in the end, J.D. Martinez said his decision to sign with the Dodgers — on a bargain one-year, $10-million contract, no less — came down to an even simpler, more singular reason.

“I’m in a part of my career where I just want to win,” the Dodgers new designated hitter said Wednesday night, speaking publicly for the first time since his offseason arrival at a charity bowling event Betts was hosting in downtown Los Angeles.

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“I didn’t want to be on a team that was gonna be rebuilding. I didn’t want to be on a team that was trying to see where [it was] going, [that] didn’t know where we were gonna be,” Martinez added. “I wanted to be on a team that is going to be in the running, that is gonna be right there come October. That was my main thing. That was literally my main focus.”

That helped explain Martinez’s decision to take what was seen as a below-market deal from the Dodgers in December, one that his agent Scott Boras claimed to the Athletic was “$6 million to $7 million” under-value for the five-time All-Star and three-time Silver Slugger.

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To the 35-year-old Martinez, however, the Dodgers offered a competitive appeal few clubs could match — a point he said he emphasized to president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman upon signing with the team.

“When I talked to Andrew on the phone,” Martinez recalled, “I said, ‘I’m doing this because I believe in you guys and I believe in the team you put on the field every year.’ ”

He later added: “I’m getting to the back end of my career. And I know this is a really good chance … to try to win another World Series.”

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Martinez first started imagining life as a Dodger ahead of last season’s trade deadline, when the team made a push to acquire him before balking at the Boston Red Sox’s high asking price.

In free agency, the Dodgers got another chance, targeting Martinez — who last year batted .274 and earned an All-Star selection, but also cooled off in the second half and finished with just 16 home runs — as a de facto replacement for veteran Justin Turner after he and the team failed to make progress on a new deal.

“It was always in the back of my head that I could end up here,” Martinez said.

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And now that it’s a reality, Dodgers brass has high hopes for his potential impact with the team.

On the field, they’ll be counting on Martinez to produce from the DH spot and provide power in the middle of the lineup.

Off it, they believe the veteran can fill a leadership role in their new-look clubhouse — a process that began last month when Van Scoyoc organized a workout in Miami with Martinez and rookie infielder Miguel Vargas.

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“It’s something that has always come naturally for me on every team I’ve been on,” Martinez said. “I’ve helped a lot of the younger guys, and a lot of guys gravitate to me, especially when it comes to the offensive side of things. So that part is something I don’t even think about, and it kind of happens.”

To top it all off, Martinez’s connection to Van Scoyoc and Betts should only ease the transition.

As a private instructor back in 2013, Van Scoyoc helped Martinez revitalize his swing and become one of the game’s most potent power hitters. In the nine seasons since, Martinez’s 258 home runs rank sixth in the majors.

Betts, meanwhile, became one of Martinez’s closest teammates on the Boston Red Sox in 2018, when the two formed a partnership that keyed the club’s run to a World Series title over the Dodgers that fall.

“We’re genuine friends,” Betts said. “It’s way deeper than baseball.”

Near the end of his free agency this offseason, Martinez said Betts and Van Scoyoc “were definitely in the recruiting phase for me,” reaching out repeatedly to pitch him on joining the team.

It was the last little nudge the slugger needed.

Even at a one-year, discount rate, Martinez looked at his opportunity with the Dodgers and decided: “This is where I wanted to be.”

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A lot of unknowns are on deck for the Dodgers in 2023. And by the way, the Dodgers are finally going to retire Fernando Valenzuela’s number.

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