Baseball has an excellent offseason. It’s as good as any sport can be when they’re not actually playing the games. Winter Meetings in December. Pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training in February and setting off the wave of team news and gossip, both of the revelatory variety and the not. But then there’s January. The black sheep of the baseball offseason months. Had it not been for the hacking scandal and the Cardinals deciding to head to arbitration with Carlos Martinez over $325,000, I would have had a hard time coming up with worthwhile news from the past month.
Thankfully, (and I am hardly breaking news here at VEB) yesterday we ushered in February, and right on cue came the dawn of wonderful and interesting baseball news. Jon Heyman had it first:
carlos martinez and cardinals will have an extension for $51M for 5 years. announcement expected tomorrow.— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 2, 2017
And Jenifer Langosch quickly filled in some more details:
Carlos Martinez's 5-year, $51-million extension also includes a pair of options - which means this deal could take him through 2023 season.— Jenifer Langosch (@LangoschMLB) February 2, 2017
So no arbitration hearing which is good news, and on the surface the extension looks like a great deal for the Cardinals. I’m not wild about a win costs such-and-such on the market, but if Martinez comes close to his Steamer and FanGraphs projections (3.7 WAR) then this is certainly good value for the Cardinals even when considering that they would have only had to pay Martinez $4.25 million next season had they gone to arbitration and lost, as well as the two following arbitration years which likely would have come in below the yearly sum of this contract.
This probably isn’t the best comparison because we’re talking about pitchers of much different ages and service time, but keep in mind Jeff Samardzija is currently pitching on a five year/$90 million contract. So yes, five years at $51 million for a pitcher of Martinez’s age and caliber is a great deal for the club (and it may also paint a picture of a slightly depressed market for pitchers, as Dave Cameron alluded to here). It’s good for Martinez, too. Could he have gotten a heftier payday had he reached free agency in 2020? Probably. But pitching careers are fickle and this gives him a jumpstart on a big contract, and to that end it has been reported that the $51 million sum of the contract isn’t backloaded.
Ignoring for a second the possibility of club options which could reportedly allow Martinez to earn up to $85.5 million, as it stands this contract secures Martinez for his age-25 through 29 seasons which ideally will be his prime years. It also solidifies Martinez along with Alex Reyes in the rotation through at least 2021 (Reyes is under team control until 2023), which is a nice jolt of youth and stability to a rotation that will probably need it.
A column this past Friday by Nick Stellini at FanGraphs theorized on a possible trade for Jose Quintana involving the Cardinals. From the piece:
The one suspect area is their rotation. Adam Wainwright isn’t getting any younger, and Michael Wacha‘s streak of bumps and bruises isn’t inspiring. Lance Lynn will be coming back from elbow surgery. They’ve added some depth in John Gant, and still have Luke Weaver waiting in the wings as well, but it’s depth that could be chewed through relatively quickly. The Cards are going to want to do everything they can to secure a Wild Card spot, and beefing up their rotation is one of the best ways to do it.
Martinez wasn’t overlooked, he wasn’t included because whether he’s considered the team ace or not he’s the only pitcher on the staff who doesn’t come packaged with a fair question mark heading into 2017, and by nearly any measure he was their best starter in 2016. He’s young. Joe can tell you all about his repertoire. And over the last two seasons he’s been one of the better starters not just in this clubhouse but in the National League.
And this extension is important for other reasons. I didn’t think the club’s decision to go to arbitration with a popular, valuable player like Martinez over a sum of $325,000 was as concerning as others did. However, the possibility of alienating a player not only important to the team and fan base, but one who has been genuinely active in the community did feel like an unnecessary risk. Martinez is that rare talent who can energize the existing fans and cultivate new ones. You want to hold on tight to guys like that. Langosch noted last night in her story on the extension that Martinez has been quoted recently as saying he wants to spend his entire career in St. Louis. This is a good start.