The Cardinals have declined their 2022 options on infielder Matt Carpenter and right-hander Carlos Martinez, the MLBPA announced. Carpenter had an $18.5MM club option with a $2MM buyout, whereas Martinez’s contract included a $17MM option with a $500K buyout. It was a foregone conclusion that the pair of options would be bought out after poor 2021 showings for both longtime Cardinals, who are now free agents for the first time in their careers.
Carpenter, 36 in three weeks, still draws plenty of walks (11.4%) and makes a lot of hard contact — but much of that hard contact is pulled on the ground into an eagerly awaiting shift. Just shy of 75% of Carpenter’s ground-balls were pulled this season, so it’s hardly a surprise that he batted .143 on ground-balls despite a leaguewide average of .236 on grounders. It’s a similar story on line-drives; Carpenter pulled exactly two-thirds of his liners this season and hit .536 — whereas the league average on line drives was a much larger .689.
Prior to his recent decline, Carpenter was a fixture in the St. Louis batting order who made a trio of All-Star teams and thrice drew MVP votes in the National League — including a fourth-place finish in 2013. Since Opening Day 2020, however, he’s managed just a .176/.313/.291 batting line with a 29.9% strikeout rate. Carpenter has made clear he wants to play in 2022, but it’ll almost certainly require him signing on with a new team, as the Cardinals’ infield is quite crowded. Even if the DH comes to the National League, Carpenter’s 2020-21 swoon probably wouldn’t make him a top consideration for the Cards.
Martinez’s decline was even swifter and was far less expected. Still just 30 years old, the righty was limited to 48 2/3 innings by a shoulder strain in 2019 but remained highly effective when he did take the mound that year. From 2015-19, he looked like a rotation building block — hence his $51MM contract extension — as he logged 747 innings of 3.22 ERA ball with a strong 23.7% strikeout rate and a 9.0% walk rate.
However, in 2020, Martinez was blown up for a 9.90 ERA in 20 innings, and after a strong run in mid-April and May this season, his season took a catastrophic nose dive. Martinez served up 10 runs against the Dodgers on June 2 and was tagged for five runs in three of his next four starts. His season ultimately ended with a 6.23 ERA through 82 1/3 innings and a torn ligament on his thumb that landed him on the 60-day IL. Dating back to Opening Day 2020, Martinez owns a 6.95 ERA and a woeful 6.0 K-BB% that would’ve seemed unfathomable just a few years ago.