Jose Martinez signed a two-year deal that will keep him in St. Louis through the 2020 season, the team announced (via Twitter). The team will pay the Octagon client $3.25MM guaranteed, plus incentives, per Fancred’s Jon Heyman (via Twitter).
Martinez, a late-bloomer, played his first full season in the big leagues in 2017 at the age of 28, so this deal, interestingly, protects Martinez against a possible non-tender next season, his first of arbitration eligibility. Martinez gets a little extra security, and the Cardinals send a message to the rest of the league that they’re not going to be giving up Martinez for free. The deal does not alter the Cardinals length of control over Martinez, who will be eligible for arbitration again in 2021 and 2022. Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch adds further context to the deal (via Twitter), as Martinez had opportunities to make more money in Japan. The deal forestalls conversations of a transfer by rewarding Martinez’s strong 2018 with some early financial security.
Since the Cardinals acquired Paul Goldschmidt from the Diamondbacks, trade winds have howled around Martinez, who has long been pegged as a future DH. Martinez figures to get a few starts at first and a few at designated hitter when interleague play allows, but his playing time will be cut a year after the big right-hander received 84 starts at first base and established himself as a regular in the St. Louis lineup. Goldschmidt, of course, is a free agent at season’s end, so keeping Martinez under lock and key provides the Cardinals future security as well.
Though not a strong defender, Martinez does provide some versatility – he started 46 games in right field in 2018 and figures to have a chance at more regular playing time this year if he can outmuscle the competition. Tyler O’Neill, 23, will take his best shot after a promising 130 at-bats in 2019, as will veteran Dexter Fowler, who figures to have first dibs if he can rebound from a tough 2018.
Still, the Cardinals clearly value Martinez for his bat, even if his primary role this season will be as a pinch-hitter. After hitting .305/.365/.457 last season, the challenge this season comes in finding at-bats. Considering Martinez was already under team control, there’s little risk involved here for St. Louis, though it does perhaps change the expectations of trade partners looking to snag Martinez on the cheap.