Carlos Martínez has begun a throwing program in hopes of pitching in the Dominican Winter League this offseason, reports Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Twitter link). The 30-year-old didn’t pitch after undergoing surgery to repair a ligament tear in his right thumb in mid-July.
That injury brought an unceremonious early end to Martínez’s nine-season run with the Cardinals. After the season, the front office made the easy call to buy him out for $500K rather than exercise a $17MM club option covering the 2022 campaign. Even prior to the injury, the two-time All-Star had struggled mightily over the past couple seasons. Since the start of 2020, Martínez owns just a 6.95 ERA with a subpar 15.8% strikeout rate in 102 1/3 innings.
Martínez certainly won’t approach the $17MM option value during his first trip through free agency, but he profiles as one of the more interesting buy-low options available. While the last couple seasons have been very disappointing, Martínez was one of the game’s better starters early in his career. From 2015-18, he worked to a 3.22 ERA/3.58 FIP over 698 2/3 frames. He spent the 2019 campaign working in relief based on injury concerns, and he continued to thrive in shorter stints. Martínez posted a 3.17 ERA over 48 appearances out of the ’pen that year, inducing ground-balls at a massive 56.5% clip.
There’ll surely be teams interested in seeing whether Martínez can recapture any of his prior form, although he’ll likely be limited to incentive-laden, one-year offers after the last two years. It’s possible some clubs could view him as a better option in short stints once again, and Goold adds that the right-hander is amenable to working in relief in 2022. The hope would be to stay healthy with a smaller workload and rebuild his value with better numbers before eventually lengthening back out as a starter over the long term. The robustness of his free agent market could very well depend on the quality of his stuff in winter ball, but it’s at least promising to hear he’s now healthy enough to begin throwing after a four-month recovery period.