Carlos Martinez recently underwent a “small procedure” on his bothersome right shoulder, Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak said during a radio interview on KMOX 1120 AM Sunday (hat tip to Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). The treatment involved a platelet-rich plasma injection. Martinez isn’t expected to miss any significant time, as Mozeliak said the right-hander “should have a pretty normal offseason” and is expected to ready for the start of the Cards’ Spring Training camp in February.
Shoulder issues have plagued Martinez in each of the last two seasons, which is why St. Louis shifted him into the bullpen in 2018 and used him exclusively as a reliever in 2019. After making his season debut in May, Martinez posted a 3.17 ERA, 9.9 K/9, and 2.94 K/BB rate over 48 1/3 innings, and also ended up accumulating 24 saves as the Cards’ closer once Jordan Hicks had to undergo Tommy John surgery in June.
Despite this success, Martinez has long stated his preference to work as a starting pitcher, the Cardinals left the door open to a return to the rotation in 2020. Last week’s shoulder procedure was intended to correct the soreness that arose whenever Martinez began to pitch deeper into games, though after over a year away from the rotation, it remains to be seen if Martinez will be able to return to his old form as a starter. “In terms of what we want to see happen with Carlos this upcoming year, I think there are going to be many factors that way into that, and him being one of them,” Mozeliak said. “What he decides he thinks is best for him when you look at his career path and where he is physically.”
It wasn’t long ago that Martinez was seen as one of baseball’s top young arms, as he posted a 3.24 ERA, 2.82 K/BB rate, and 8.9 K/9 from 2015-17, averaging 193 innings per season. This led to a contract extension in the 2016-17 offseason that guaranteed Martinez $51.5MM over a five-year stretch, and Martinez is still owed $23.5MM on that deal. He’ll earn $11.5MM in 2020 and 2021, before the Cardinals can either exercise a $17MM club option for 2022 or buy it out for $500K, and there’s also an $18MM club option ($500K buyout) on Martinez’s services for 2023.
Those salaries become a veritable bargain if Martinez is able to return to the starting five and pitch as he did in 2015-17, and even if he remains as a reliever, $11.5MM per season isn’t an untoward amount for a bullpen arm who pitches as well as Martinez did in 2019.
Jack Flaherty, Miles Mikolas, and Dakota Hudson have three spaces in the Cardinals’ rotation spoken for next season, though getting Martinez back would go a long way towards helping the team fill the final two spots. Austin Gomber, Daniel Ponce de Leon, Genesis Cabrera, and Alex Reyes are all on the short list to compete for starting jobs, though one rotation space could be taken if veteran stalwart Adam Wainwright were to re-sign for another year in St. Louis. If Martinez does return to starting, however, it leaves a vacancy for the Cards to address at closer, since Hicks is slated to miss most or potentially all of the 2020 season.