We’ve reached the 10-year anniversary of a Cardinals move that has paid significant dividends for the franchise. It was on this date in 2010 that the Cardinals signed right-hander Carlos Martinez out of the Dominican Republic for a $1.5MM bonus. The deal came a year after a $150K agreement Martinez had with the Red Sox fell through because of questions over his name and birthday, as Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com detailed back in 2013.
Martinez’s issues were ultimately sorted out after the Boston deal collapsed, and St. Louis has been the beneficiary. After a torrid run through the minors, Martinez ended up debuting in the majors in 2013 as a hyped prospect, even making five appearances in relief against Boston in St. Louis’ World Series loss to the Red Sox. He has since established himself as a key part of the Cardinals’ pitching staff.
Martinez truly broke out as a starter in 2015, the first season of a three-year, 580-inning stretch in which he logged a 3.24 ERA/3.59 FIP with 8.92 K/9, 3.17 BB/9 and a 54 percent groundball rate. The Cardinals made a sizable commitment to Martinez after the second of those seasons, signing him to an extension worth a guaranteed $51MM over five years in February 2017. Martinez is down to his last two guaranteed seasons on that pact, though the Cardinals will be able to control him for 2022 and ’23 via club options; that is, if they’re willing to pay him $17MM in the first year and/or $18MM in the second (otherwise, they could buy him out in either season for $500K).
Martinez seemed to be on pace to have those options picked up just a couple years ago, but it’s less clear what his future holds at this point. Now 28 years old, Martinez spent the majority of the previous two seasons as a reliever – an effective one at that – owing in part to injuries. Dating back to 2018, he has tossed 167 innings of 3.13 ERA/3.34 FIP ball with 9.16 K/9, 4.2 BB/9 and a typically above-average grounder percentage of 51.1.
All 48 of the hard-throwing Martinez’s appearances last year came out of the Cardinals’ bullpen as he recovered from shoulder issues, and he even converted 24 of 27 save opportunities while filling in for the injured Jordan Hicks as their closer. However, before the coronavirus pandemic reared its ugly head and caused baseball to shut down, the 28-year-old looked as if he was on track to return to his prior role in the St. Louis rotation in 2020.
No matter which job Martinez takes on this season (if there is one), it’s fair to say his production as both a starter and a reliever has been a boon to the Cardinals. Ten years ago today, they landed a two-time All-Star for a relative pittance.