Martinez ended the 2018 season in a relief role, though that decision was driven by the practical fact that he did not have time to work fully back from a shoulder injury. Though he (rather unsurprisingly) pitched well out of the pen, the stated plan was to slide Martinez back into the rotation.
Now, with camp opening, there are signals from the Cards’ uniformed staff that Martinez could be seen internally as a late-inning relief asset. Pitching coach Mike Maddux, in particular, dropped a few winks at the possibility, saying he “liked [Martinez] out of the bullpen a lot.”
“Right now, Carlos is in the rotation, but that’s the great thing about the flexibility we have,” said Maddux. “You might be a starter in Spring Training, but you might end up in the bullpen or something like that.”
While he wasn’t quite as suggestive, skipper Mike Shildt also wasn’t shy about acknowledging the possibility of Martinez returning to the relief unit. He emphasized that Martinez is “expected to be a starter,” but in the same breath made clear that “he is a piece that could transition to the bullpen.”
“The thing we like about Carlos is the flexibility that he can bring, and his effectiveness in both roles,” Schildt also said. “So as you look at your total team and what it looks like, you always want to have the option or the availability to know that there is flexibility.”
Those comments obviously don’t represent anything approaching a clear indication that the Cardinals actually intend to bump Martinez to the pen. Still, that’s an awful lot of discussion of the possibility at the outset of camp. Both Maddux and Schildt expressed openness, if not more, to a reprisal of Martinez’s late-2018 role.
We’ll see how things turn out, but a permanent change of job titles would be a significant development. Martinez has had plenty of success as a starter and would surely have greater potential value in that role. He’s one of the highest-upside hurlers in a starting mix that has quite a lot of talent but also some real uncertainties. Martinez is also already being paid close to top dollar for a reliever, with three years and $34.5MM left on his extension. That deal’s option-year price tags ($17MM and $18MM) seem much likelier to be appealing if Martinez is working from the rotation.