Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martínez has undergone surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb, manager Mike Shildt told reporters (including Zachary Silver of MLB.com) this afternoon. Martínez was already known to be facing an extended absence — he landed on the 60-day injured list two weeks ago — but it’s nevertheless a disappointing development for the 29-year-old.
It’s not clear whether the procedure officially rules Martínez out for the remainder of the season, but that doesn’t seem to be an unreasonable assumption. If Martínez’s season is finished, it’s quite possible he’s already made his last appearance as a Cardinal. St. Louis has a $17MM club option on his services for 2022, but that’s a near lock to be bought out for $500K instead. Martínez’s performance before he suffered the injury simply hasn’t warranted that kind of financial outlay.
Martínez was a productive mid-rotation starter for much of his early career with the Cardinals. That earned him a five-year, $51MM extension in February 2017 that guaranteed he’d spend at least the first nine years of his big league career in St. Louis. Martínez continued to pitch at a high level through 2019 (spending that season in the bullpen) but has struggled mightily over the last two years. Between 2020-21, Martínez has pitched to a 6.95 ERA/5.18 FIP over 102 1/3 innings, with his once-strong strikeout numbers tailing off.
A lack of starting pitching depth has plagued the Cardinals all season, thanks in part to Martínez’s struggles. St. Louis was known to be on the hunt for pitching help last month, but it’s not clear the club will be in position to buy at the trade deadline. The Cardinals entered play tonight with a 46-47 record; that’s tied with the Cubs for third place in the NL Central, nine games back of the division-leading Brewers. They’re 7.5 back in the Wild Card race, with the Reds and Phillies also between them and the Padres, who currently hold the final playoff position.
Even if the Cardinals don’t wind up being buyers, the organization looks more likely to stand pat in advance of the July 30 trade deadline than orchestrate any type of sell off. President of baseball operations John Mozeliak suggested last weekend selling wasn’t on the table.
As Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat explores, there wouldn’t be a ton of obvious trade candidates on the St. Louis roster even if Mozeliak were more amenable to moving some veterans. A majority of the club’s key players are under team control through 2022, and St. Louis is certainly not about to embark on a full rebuild. Yadier Molina, Adam Wainwright and Andrew Miller are all slated to hit free agency at the end of the season, but all three have full no-trade rights — Molina and Wainwright based on their MLB service time, Miller through the terms of his free agent contract. Trading franchise icons like Molina or Wainwright midseason probably wouldn’t be under consideration for the front office regardless.
The one player on the Cardinals who stands out as the most obvious potential trade candidate is southpaw Kwang-hyun Kim. The 32-year-old has performed well over his first two seasons since coming over from the KBO, and he’s ticketed for free agency at the end of the year. There’d surely be demand from contenders seeking pitching help, but it seems there’s a potential obstacle to any Kim deal. A source close to Kim tells Jones the left-hander might consider opting out of the rest of the season and returning to his native South Korea if the Cardinals traded him. If that’s indeed the case, it’d essentially kill any chance of him getting dealt.