This year’s free agent market features a number of starters who could deepen a Major League team’s rotation. Beyond the abundance of former Cy Young Award winners and All-Stars, however, is a recently dominant but much less heralded name: Nick Martinez. Martinez, who has spent the past four seasons in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, is slated to reach free agency next month and could draw major league interest, notes Jon Heyman of the MLB Network.
Martinez was an 18th-round pick by the Rangers in the 2011 draft who exceeded expectations by posting solid run prevention numbers up and down his minor league career. The starting pitcher’s steady production led to a 2014 Major League promotion that looked a lot like the ensuing three seasons of his Rangers tenure. Throughout his time in Texas, the right-hander followed this trend: average-ish ground-ball, walk and fly-ball rates, not nearly enough strikeouts, and too many home runs. Thanks to the sheer amount of contact Martinez allowed, opponents were able to hit a hearty .277/.343/.476 off him.
After a 2017 season that saw his ERA climb to new heights, Martinez was non-tendered by Texas. Several teams must’ve been dreaming on the chance to tap into Martinez’s upside, however, as the starting pitcher rebuffed multiple Major League offers and signed overseas with the NPB’s Nippon-Ham Fighters for a guaranteed $2.2MM. While his career abroad started promisingly, his next two seasons with the team saw his ERA and walk rates trend in the wrong direction.
This all leads us to the 2021 season where Martinez latched on with the SoftBank Hawks, also of NPB. The veteran’s performance for his third organization was, in a word, incredible. Across 149 innings, he stymied hitters, producing a 1.62 ERA, significantly slashing his home run rate, and striking out nearly a batter per inning. His 2021 performance was further bolstered on the world stage when he twirled 11 equally dominant innings with Team USA’s Olympic team. That success in NPB and international play should put the 31-year-old on some MLB teams’ radars, although Heyman hears that the Hawks are unsurprisingly expected to make an effort to keep him in Fukuoka.