There’s a belief, shared by myself, that Jose Martinez is likely to be traded by the Cardinals over the course of this offseason. Cardinals are reportedly intent on improving right field, which is the only conceivable position he would get meaningful playing time in 2019 on the Cardinals. He would be facing competition from Dexter Fowler and Tyler O’Neill on the bench if the Cards got another right fielder. Fowler might be untradeable and O’Neill looks like a future starter (things can change), leaving Martinez as the probable odd man out.
When the dust settles, one of those three is being traded, if not two. I really do believe the Cardinals will trade Martinez if a good deal comes along. I’m not necessarily convinced they’ll give him away for pennies on the dollar. Martinez as a pure pinch-hitter next year has value. There’s no reason to just give him away unless someone is willing to pay. Of course, what would a fair price for Martinez be?
This post is not about suggesting possible landing spots for Martinez, nor presenting specific trade scenarios. This post is about Jose Martinez’s value on the market. Martinez is not an easy player to value. He is an atypical third-year player. He’s already 30. He is a bat only player. His bat is probably a little more uncertain than a career 130 wRC+ hitter usually is, even after only two years, just because of how out of nowhere his ascension was. Hell, you can’t even be certain about his defense, except that he shouldn’t play 1B and he looks awkward in RF.
First things first, let’s set the bar for Jose Martinez in 2019. Steamer has him with a projected 117 wRC+. We do not have the ZiPS yet. For what it’s worth, Steamer projected Martinez for a 106 wRC+ and ZiPS for a 104 last year so I imagine ZiPS won’t be more optimistic on Martinez, so we’ll stick with 117 wRC+. They have him basically repeating his 2017 but with a lower BABIP. Since he had a .351 BABIP, that seems fair. Martinez’s road to being a better hitter is probably by having a higher than .152 ISO. Given his history, that’s not really something any team will bet on, and they are the important barometer here.
Unfortunately, the UZR numbers Martinez posted do not leave a lot of margin for error on defense here. 1B UZR would not capture Martinez’s true badness at 1B so I’m not suggesting he was this good, but in 2018, they had him as a -4.3 UZR/150 1B, which no. In RF, the only other position he played, he was a -4 UZR/150 at RF. I feel like that’s the best case for his defense? My point is that Martinez was worth 2.3 WAR with a 125 wRC+ last year and favorable defensive numbers. Not a great start.
The theory goes that Martinez will be traded to an American League team because he’s bad at defense. For once, the numbers have decided to be convenient for me. Over 637 innings in his career, which is to be clear a truly poor sample, he has been a -10.6 UZR/150 defender in the corners for his major league career. Would it surprise you to know that a -10 defender in the corner outfield essentially has the same defensive value as a designated hitter? Well, it makes this a lot easier since whether he’s being traded to a team that will use him at DH or RF, his value remains the same.
I think there’s a chance he’s better than a -10 defender, so let’s present an alternate value where he’s a -7 UZR/150 defender instead. Still bad so not going out on a limb here. If he’s a -10 defender or a DH, he’s a projected 1.7 WAR player in 2019. If he’s a -7 defender at RF, he’s a 2 WAR player.
Martinez is under contract until 2022, so his 2019 value is not the only relevant factor. For 2020, I gave him 1.2 WAR, for 2021 0.7 WAR, and for 2022 0.2 WAR. This seems harsh and I’d probably give him a better projection, but I believe it’s fairly standard. Plus he’s already 30. If he were 26, I wouldn’t adhere to a strict 0.5 drop, but given his age, I’m inclined to stick to that format. But to be fair, I’ll present that alternate timeline where he’s a 2 WAR player too.
Martinez enters arbitration in 2020, so it’s necessary to look at how much he will likely get in arbitration. These links are slightly outdated, but here says it’s more like 30/40/60 and here says 25/40/60. The former notes that hitters get less than pitchers, so I feel comfortable giving Martinez 25/40/60. In case you didn’t know, this means that a player entering his first year of arbitration will get 25% of his open market value, second year 40% and third year 60%. I will value the win at $9 million per win.
As a 1.7 WAR player, Martinez would get $3.83 million in Arb 1, $6.1 million in Arb 2, and $9.2 million in Arb 3. Does this pass the sniff test? MLBTR, who are pretty spot on with their predictions, have a few somewhat comparable players. Mark Canha, a worse yet similar player to Martinez, is projected for $2.1 million. Adam Duvall is getting $3.1 million, but is coming off a horrible year. Domingo Santana is a similar player to him, but barely played last year, and is projected for $2 million. Kyle Schwarber is projected for just $3.1 million too, but he’s been a worse hitter and has a .228 career average which I think sadly matters in this. Lastly, Michael Conforto is projected for $4.4 million. He’s projected for a 120 wRC+ and is good on defense. Take into the equation that we’re talking 2020 and not 2019 and I think this is a reasonable estimate.
Lastly, let’s try the optimistic scenario where he’s a 2 WAR player who declines 0.5 every year.
I don’t realistically think Martinez is valued at a $25 million surplus, but I thought it was an interesting exercise. He’s still valuable with $14 million surplus. A surplus value of $15.1 million will get you a back of the top 100 pitching prospect. He’s not quite there, but he’s close. A back of the top 100 hitting prospect costs $20 million so he’s a quite a ways away from that.
What does this tell us? Well, probably something you already knew. Martinez is not worth a top 100 prospect. But he’s probably closer to worth one than you realize. For whatever it’s worth, a 1 WAR reliever entering arbitration next year who maintains 1 WAR for three straight years before free agency, is worth $15.3 million. Of course, you can’t assume he’ll maintain it, but that’s food for thought.