Carlos Martinez’s extension with the Cardinals was largely spurred by the right-hander and agent Brian Mejia, the latter of whom first approached the Redbirds about a new deal nearly a year ago, reports Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. While Martinez secured a guaranteed $51MM and could earn up to $86MM if the Cardinals exercise club options for both 2022 and ’23, Craig Edwards of FanGraphs opines that it’s not a great deal for the player, arguing that the 25-year-old may have left roughly $100MM on the table by eschewing the chance to hit free agency after the 2019 season. As Edwards points out, though, it’s difficult to fault Martinez for choosing security for him and his family – especially given the recent deaths of two fellow Dominicans, ex-Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras and former Kansas City righty Yordano Ventura. Plus, Martinez will still have an opportunity to hit free agency as a 31-year-old if he sees this contract through. “He could have just pointed to (age) 28 as a free agent,” general manager John Mozeliak said Thursday. “He chose not to.”
The Cardinals have locked up a new core piece, announcing on Thursday that they’ve signed right-hander Carlos Martinez to a five-year extension that includes a pair of club options for the 2022 and 2023 seasons.
Martinez, who is represented by Octagon, will reportedly be guaranteed $51MM with the new contract, which pays him $4.5MM in the upcoming season ($1MM of which is a bonus) and $11.5MM in each of the four subsequent seasons. The club options are said to be valued at $17MM and $18MM, and each comes with a $500K buyout. The deal also includes a trade bonus provision, under which Martinez would receive $500K if dealt over the next two years or $1MM if he’s moved during the remainder of the deal.
Martinez and the Cards have long been engaged on a long-term deal, and the two sides were successfully able to wrap up negotations before even getting to Spring Training. The new five-year pact was hammered out in lieu of a hearing over the 25-year-old’s first-year arbitration salary. Martinez had filed for $4.25MM, while the team countered with a $3.9MM submission. (MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, for what it’s worth, wrote recently that he felt Martinez was worth a lot more in view of his arb comps.)
We recently assessed Martinez’s extension candidacy, which in many ways lacked appropriate comparables to help guide a deal. As explained in that piece, a contract that landed somewhere between those reached by Corey Kluber ($38.5MM over five years, with two options) and Matt Harrison ($55MM over five years, with one option) seemed to make sense. Indeed, that’s just what appears to be in the works. As Heyman notes, the deal constitutes a record for a first-time, arb-eligible pitcher.
With the move, the Cards now control Martinez through at least 2021 — his age-29 season. A power righty with two outstanding breaking balls and a useful changeup, Martinez carries an ace’s arsenal. He hasn’t quite reached that lofty status, but could well be on his way. Martinez owns a 3.02 ERA since the start of the 2015 season, so the results are already excellent. Though he hasn’t yet sustained top-end strikeout numbers — he owns 8.5 K/9 and 10.4% swinging-strike rate for his career — Martinez arguably has the capacity to do so. He also boosted his groundball rate to a robust 56.4% in 2016 and has a track record of limiting hard contact and home runs. If Martinez can continue to improve his change, and further boost his performance against left-handed hitters, he has a chance to deliver enormous value over the life of the contract.
Durability, of course, is another key factor. Martinez did approach the 200-inning level last year, notching 195 1/3 frames after spinning 179 2/3 the season prior, but still needs to prove he can chew up innings year-in, year-out. He’ll surely be given the opportunity now to work later into games and establish himself as a true workhorse. A related area to watch is health. Though Martinez’s track record in that regard is a good one — he’s been on the disabled list just once, for a shoulder strain in September 2015 — youngsters who throw so many hard pitches have been shown to have slightly elevated risk of requiring Tommy John surgery. (For more, check out the work of MLBTR contributor Bradley Woodrum; see here for an explanation; here for individual player results.)
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports first reported that the two sides were making progress in talks. Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reported the financial terms that were expected to be finalized. MLB.com’s Jenifer Langosch added that the deal included a pair of club options (via Twitter). Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post Dispatch was the first to report that an agreement had been reached. Heyman later reportted (Twitter links) the financial breakdown of the deal.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
12:16pm: Manfred has issued a statement disputing elements of Correa’s account. Per the commissioner, the league decided not to investigate the matter until federal authorities had wrapped up their work. But the league’s Department of Investigations circled back to Correa’s camp last summer (following his guilty plea) to request his cooperation, which was not forthcoming.
“On July 21, 2016, Mr. Correa was informed directly that he would be placed on the permanently ineligible list if he did not cooperate with the Department of Investigations. Mr. Correa not only steadfastly refused to answer any questions, but also opposed the release of any documents by the government to the Office of the Commissioner. On August 23, 2016, Mr. Correa’s attorney told the Department of Investigations that Mr. Correa was not interested ’in providing any information directly or indirectly to MLB.’ The Department of Investigations was not provided evidence to substantiate the other allegations contained in Mr. Correa’s letter, but remains willing to meet with Mr. Correa at any time.”
9:46am: Former Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa, who is currently serving a 46-month sentence for improperly accessing the databases of the Astros organization, has leveled similar charges against the Houston front office via Twitter. His claim comes in the wake of the league’s decision yesterday to punish St. Louis in the form of two draft picks and $2MM (which will go to the Astros as a form of compensation).
According to Correa’s statement, an unidentified member of the Astros organization “accessed proprietary data on a St. Louis Cardinals server” late in 2011. Further, he charges, the Astros utilized the Cardinals’ information “to replicate and evaluate key algorithms and decision tools related to amateur and professional player evaluation.” Most seriously, perhaps, Correa alleges that Houston GM Jeff Luhnow and then-assistant GM David Stearns “were included in e-mail discussions about these efforts.”
Needless to say, these new allegations do not come from an outwardly credible or impartial source. As he acknowledges in his own statement, the apparent support for his allegations was obtained “through unlawful methods.” We’ve yet to see or hear anything regarding actual proof for Correa’s assertions. And the league has given no indication that it has or will investigate the matter, despite Correa saying that he offered to provide commissioner Rob Manfred with information at the time that the scandal broke.
The Astros will not issue further comment at this time, per David Barron of the Houston Chronicle. The organization did release a statement yesterday, saying that it had cooperated fully into the various investigations and emphasizing that it is “pleased to have closure on this issue.” The club stated that it was in support of Manfred’s decision, calling it “a clear message of the severity of these actions.” And Astros general counsel Giles Kibbe recently told Barron and Chronicle colleague Jake Kaplan that, “as we have previously stated, we did not have any of the Cardinals’ proprietary information in Ground Control or our database.”
Those interested in learning more about the background of this matter can find it in MLBTR’s extensive prior coverage. This post lays out many of the key facts that emerged after a federal investigation was undertaken following the public release of proprietary Astros information. Additional information about Correa’s misdeeds was publicized for the first time over the weekend, including his potential role in the public leak and the nature of his access to the Cardinals’ systems.
Major League Baseball has concluded its investigation into the Cardinals’ illegal accessing of the Astros’ proprietary database, ruling that St. Louis will have to send two draft picks to the Astros and pay a $2MM fine to the Astros as punishment, Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred announced on Monday. The Cardinals will lose their top two picks, Nos. 56 and 75 overall, as punishment. Manfred also announced that former Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa, who was fired and sentenced to prison time for accessing the Astros’ database, has been placed on the “permanently ineligible” list, thus banning him from baseball.
The Cardinals had already forfeited their top pick in the 2017 draft in order to sign Dexter Fowler to a five-year contract, and they’ll now be left without any selections in the top two rounds of the draft as a result of commissioner Manfred’s ruling. (The second pick they’re forfeiting is a Competitive Balance, Round B selection.) In addition to losing those two draft picks, the Cardinals will also lost the bonus slots that are associated with those selections.
Via the announcement on the matter, the league’s investigation “did not establish that any Cardinals’ employee other than Mr. Correa (who was the only individual charged by the federal government) was responsible for the intrusions into the Astros’ electronic systems.” As such, there are no penalties to further Cardinals employees (either current or former). Manfred continues to state that he holds the Cardinals organization “vicariously liable for [Correa’s] misconduct,” adding that the Astros “suffered material harm as a result of Mr. Correa’s conduct.” Beyond the loss of proprietary knowledge that Manfred terms “not amenable to precise quantification,” he adds that the Astros “suffered substantial negative publicity and had to endure the time, expense and distraction of both a lengthy government investigation and an MLB investigation.”
Over the weekend, David Barron and Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle reported that documents which were recently unsealed by a federal judge had expedited the investigation and brought the commissioner’s office to the verge of a conclusion. Per the Chronicle duo, Correa accessed the Astros’ “Ground Control” database on 48 instances over a span of two and a half years and also accessed Houston GM Jeff Luhnow’s trade notes on 14 occasions. Beyond that, assistant U.S. attorney Michael Chu believes Correa to have been the responsible party for leaking 10 months’ worth of private trade notes to Deadspin — all of which became available for public consumption back in 2013.
The penalty is certainly not inconsequential for the Cardinals, but it’s already drawn mixed reviews and assuredly will continue to do so. Ben Badler of Baseball America, for instance, tweets that the league stripped the Red Sox of five prospects and imposed a two-year ban on Boston’s ability to sign international prospects last year due to their efforts to circumvent international signing restrictions by signing multiple players in package deals. Meanwhile, the Cardinals will not forfeit so much as a top 50 overall pick in the upcoming 2017 draft.
Nonetheless, the Cardinals will feel the punishment in this summer’s draft. St. Louis already had he second-lowest overall draft bonus pool, checking in at $3,925,500 this year, as Baseball America’s Hudson Belinsky recently reported. Now, they’ll lose pick No. 56 ($1,122,400) and No. 75 ($730,800), thereby dropping their overall pool to $2,072,300 — far and away the lowest in the league. (Cleveland’s $3,646,100 pool is the next-lowest, for context.)
And the Astros, meanwhile, stand to benefit from today’s ruling as well. Houston had a $6,755,100 bonus pool that will now rise to $8,608,300 (also via Belinsky’s figures). That’s certainly a far cry from the 2014 draft, when Houston had two of the top five picks (and three of the top 37) and a whopping $13,362,200 pool. But, the bump to just over $8.6MM does give the Astros the 11th-largest pool in the 2017 amateur draft — a notable bump up from their previous standing of 18th.
Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred said in October that the league was nearing the end of its investigation into the improper accessing of the Astros’ computer systems by the Cardinals, but no decision has come in the nearly four months since then. It appears that’s about to change. The league could impose sanctions on the Cardinals sometime soon – perhaps as early as the upcoming week – report Dave Barron and Jake Kaplan of the Houston Chronicle.
MLB is nearing a decision thanks to U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes’ choice to unseal details concerning ex-Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa’s hacking of the Astros’ email and player evaluation systems beginning in 2012. Correa, whom the Cardinals fired in 2015 and who was sentenced to a 46-month prison sentence and ordered to pay $279K in July, breached the Astros’ proprietary computer network, “Ground Control,” 48 times and accessed the accounts of five Houston employees, per court documents.
Correa had unlimited access to the email account of Astros director of decision sciences Sig Mejdal, who previously worked with Correa in St. Louis and was “one of Correa’s rivals,” wrote prosecutor and U.S. assistant U.S. attorney Michael Chu in one document. Hacking Mejdal’s email enabled Correa to know “what projects the Astros’ analytics department was researching, what concepts were promising and what ideas to avoid,” per Chu.
Among many other transgressions which Barron and Kaplan detail in a piece that’s definitely worth a full read, Correa used Houston general manager (and former Cardinals employee) Jeff Luhnow’s password to break into the Astros’ system. Correa also studied the Luhnow-led Astros’ trade notes “at least 14 times” leading up to the non-waiver deadline in 2013, according to Chu, who wrote that Correa “was keenly focused on information that coincided with the work he was doing for the Cardinals” and was gaining “invaluable” information from analytics-minded Houston. The Astros went through a “humiliating episode” when their trade notes were leaked to the public in 2015 and had to privately apologize to the majors’ other teams, notes Chu, who believes Correa was behind the leak.
Although the Cardinals fired Correa amid their own investigation into his violations, they could nonetheless face some form of punishment. Manfred lamented in the fall that the league hadn’t gotten enough help from the U.S. attorney’s office, though it appears the newly released information will hasten a decision from MLB.
Rangers lefty Jake Diekman underwent successful surgery to remove his colon, with several more procedures to come as he battles ulcerative colitis. Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News has the latest, including video diary entries from Diekman himself. It’s well worth a watch to learn more about the unfortunate affliction and Diekman’s fight. We hope to see him back on the mound as soon as possible.
There won’t be a return in the offing for Phillies lefty Matt Imhof, who lost his eye in a terrible accident involving exercise bands. As Imhof himself writes in a moving piece for ESPN.com, he’s returning to finish his degree at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and will retire from the sport. He says it’s not just due to the injury, though; as he writes, “the truth is I need a change of pace after 20 years of doing the same thing.” You’ll want to give a full read to the southpaw’s powerful story of coming to grips with — and not being defined by — his injury.
As we wish the best to Diekman and Imhof, here’s the latest on the market for pitching:
- As the Mets look to bolster their bullpen, the team is still weighing a variety of free agents, per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports (via Twitter). In addition to keeping open the possibility of a reunion with lefty Jerry Blevins, the Mets are also considering righties Sergio Romo and Joe Smith.
- The Blue Jays are also keeping in touch with Blevins, according to Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca. Toronto’s search for a southpaw reliever has also led it to consider Craig Breslow, per the report. The team was among those to check out his new mechanics recently.
- The Reds are exploring a reunion with former starter Bronson Arroyo, as Buster Olney of ESPN.com reports (Twitter links). Unsurprisingly, the team is not interested in guaranteeing him a roster spot, as Arroyo is two full years removed from appearing in the majors and has dealt with significant arm issues of late. GM Dick Williams confirms that the team has watched Arroyo throw and is weighing a signing, per MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon (Twitter links). Beyond a move on Arroyo or other candidates for minor-league deals, Cincinnati is done with its free-agent signings, Williams adds.
- Speaking of longstanding veterans weighing returns, righty Jason Marquis suggested in an appearance on MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM (Twitter link) that he’s open to reviving his career. The 38-year-old last appeared in a nine-start stint with Cincy in 2015, but he’s set to pitch for Team Israel in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.
- While Dodgers lefty Julio Urias showed plenty in 2016 to warrant a rotation spot in the coming season, innings considerations may hold him back to start the year. As Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times tweets, skipper Dave Roberts says that the organization may keep him in extended Spring Training at the beginning of the 2017 campaign. Such an approach would not only ensure that Urias is available for good once he does make it up, but would afford more opportunities for the organization to see what it has in its variety of interesting, injury-plagued arms. Over at Fangraphs, Craig Edwards takes a look at what’s shaping up to be a fascinating staff.
- There’s an argument to be made that the Nationals not only need to address their closer situation, but also ought to bolster their rotation depth, as Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post writes. While the team’s five-man starting unit is likely set, which perhaps limits their ability to promise opportunities to free agents, a swingman could make sense. Janes mentions Travis Wood as at least a hypothetical match, and he would indeed seem to make a sensible fit.
- 31-year-old Cardinals reliever Mitch Harris is hoping to join former teammate Seth Maness in bouncing back from a “primary repair” procedure to his right elbow, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. Harris last pitched competitively in 2015, but will be ramping up for a full spring after undergoing the surgery last summer. Because his surgeon was able to attempt that less-invasive approach, as opposed to a full UCL replacement, there’s a possibility of a much swifter return to the hill — though Harris will first need to earn his way into MLB camp after failing to receive an invite.
The Cardinals are readying to face some potentially tricky decisions with regard to franchise stalwarts Yadier Molina and Adam Wainwright, as Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch writes. While the organization is hoping for both to finish out their careers in St. Louis, a sentiment the players share, such arrangements are sometimes easier said than done. Extension talks are planned at some point this year with Molina, who remains a highly valuable workhorse behind the dish. The guaranteed portion of his contract ends after the season, with a mutual option looming. As Goold explains, it’s hardly a straightforward matter to reach a new deal; the question of how great a commitment the team wants to make will have to account for not only the valuation of an aging catcher, but also the rise of prospect Carson Kelly. As for Wainwright, who tells Goold he’ll only be interested in single-season contracts when his deal is up (after the 2018 season), there’s more time to see how things progress and less pressure given his position.
Veteran infielder Jhonny Peralta and young catcher Christian Vazquez have each changed their representation, moving to Melvin Roman’s MDR Sports, according to Liz Mullen of the Sports Business Journal (subscription link).
Peralta, 34, is entering the final year of his free-agent contract with the Cardinals. He has been mentioned as a possible trade candidate, though his focus figures to remain on securing playing time and engineering a bounceback after an injury-plagued 2016 season.
Though he had been a steady contributor to the Cards in the first two years of his deal, Peralta fell off last year. After returning from wrist surgery, he managed only a .260/.307/.408 batting line with eight home runs over 313 plate appearances. He also showed some erosion in his glovework, and did not draw strong ratings upon shifting to third from his native shortstop position.
One of Peralta’s most notable teammates, veteran receiver Yadier Molina, is perhaps MDR’s best-known current player. The agency has a long list of catchers on its rolls, including not only Molina but also players such as Robinson Chirinos, Dioner Navarro, Brayan Pena, and Rene Rivera.
Vazquez will join that group as he enters a key season. The 26-year-old will qualify for arbitration after the year, so long as he accrues enough service time in 2017 with the Red Sox. As things stand, he has logged two years and 31 days at the MLB level.
Certainly, Vazquez will need to boost his offensive productivity to set himself up as hoped. After missing all of 2015 with Tommy John surgery, he did manage to make a full return and is regarded as a highly talented defender. But he struggled last year to a .227/.277/.308 batting line over 184 plate appearances and will need to earn playing time this spring in a camp battle with Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart.
As always, you can keep up on the latest agency information with MLBTR’s Agency Database.
- The Redbirds have an impressive selection of outfielders with Dexter Fowler, Stephen Piscotty, Randal Grichuk and Tommy Pham on hand, but they’re looking to add to the group. General manager John Mozeliak is specifically seeking a left-handed hitter (Piscotty, Grichuk and Pham are righties) who can play multiple positions in the grass. There’s a wide array of current free agents who match that criteria.
- The Cardinals still intend to stretch out erstwhile closer Trevor Rosenthal, a plan which Mozeliak first revealed in November, but it doesn’t seem as if he’ll have a chance to crack their rotation. Instead, the goal is for Rosenthal to serve as a versatile bullpen option. “I think all of us were intrigued by how the postseason went this past year and how pitchers were being used,” said Mozeliak, surely referring to the Indians’ October deployment of Andrew Miller. “I’m not one who thinks that’s really something you can replicate in a 162-game season, but clearly it could be a weapon down the road if you do get to the postseason.”
- There “will be a competition” for the starting third base job this spring, according to Mozeliak. Jedd Gyorko and Jhonny Peralta will vie for the role after experiencing vastly different 2016 campaigns. Gyorko hit a solid .243/.306/.495 and popped a personal-best 30 home runs in only 438 plate appearances, whereas the normally steady Peralta may have endured the worst year of his career. While battling injuries, the 34-year-old batted .260/.307/.408 and posted a negative fWAR (minus-0.5) in 313 PAs.
Considering his murky contract status beyond 2017, there’s an outside possibility catcher Yadier Molina is entering his final season with the Cardinals. Molina will make $14MM this year, the last guaranteed season of his contract, and then he and the Cardinals will have a decision to make on a $15MM mutual option ($2MM buyout) for 2018. However, the two sides are motivated to stay together and are considering hammering out an agreement to render Molina’s option moot, reports Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com.
“It has been something that we have talked about in terms of what that might look like,” said general manager John Mozeliak. “But when you talk about extensions … I think it’s always best to keep that internal. But not to acknowledge that he has a year left with a mutual option wouldn’t be fair either. So I think as we look at ’17, it’s certainly something we have to think through. He’s made it no secret that he would like to find a way to stay here, and I would imagine that it’s something that we will mutually try to do.”
It’s no surprise that Molina and the Redbirds are mulling extending their relationship, given both his status as a franchise icon and his still-strong production. Now 34, Molina debuted with the Cardinals in 2004 and has been building what could end up as a Hall of Fame-caliber resume ever since. The ultra-durable Molina is coming off yet another terrific season behind the plate, one in which he amassed at least 130 appearances (a career-high 147, including a league-best 142 at catcher) for the seventh time in the past eight years. Along the way, he once again ranked as an elite pitch framer (via Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner) and blocker, though he only threw out 21 percent of attempted base stealers (exactly half his 42 percent lifetime mark).
Molina has long been a defensive stalwart, of course, but it took several seasons for his offensive production to reach the position’s upper echelon. Aside from a down 2015, though, Molina has been consistently above average at the plate dating back to 2011. In 581 plate appearances last season, the high-contact hitter batted .307/.360/.427 while striking out in only 10.8 percent of PAs – just under half the rate of the 21.2 percent league mean.
With no apparent signs that Molina is poised to markedly decline, it appears his future in St. Louis will last at least another couple seasons, though his next deal obviously won’t approach the five-year, $75MM extension he signed in 2012. In the improbable event he and the Cardinals part ways next offseason, it would likely pave the way for the Carson Kelly era. In the meantime, the 22-year-old is ticketed for Triple-A Memphis in 2017, while veteran Eric Fryer stands to serve as Molina’s backup. Judging by Molina’s history, Fryer won’t see much action this year.