Cardinals could trade Jose Martinez, but he's likely to fall victim to modern baseball
Martinez doesn't have a starting spot in St. Louis, and probably won't find one anywhere else, either
Last weekend, the St. Louis Cardinals fired manager Mike Matheny for his shortcomings as a strategist and leader.
With Matheny gone, the Cardinals intend to start anew with those who found themselves on the skipper's bad side, including outfielder Dexter Fowler. Hitting refresh with Fowler only makes sense -- in part because he's proven to be a talented player, and in part because he's owed more than $50 million through the 2021 season -- but there are cascading effects to consider.
One of those is that a rededication to Fowler will eat into Jose Martinez's playing time. Although Martinez has been the Cardinals' primary first baseman this season, St. Louis has recently taken to using Matt Carpenter at first and Jedd Gyorko at third. With Martinez unlikely to usurp Marcell Ozuna in left, that leaves him with no role greater than that of a bench bat.
President of baseball operations John Mozeliak has even conceded that Martinez could find himself involved in trade talks. Here's what Mozeliak told Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:
"Yeah, at some point," Mozeliak said. "Right now, that asset could be a great bat off the bench. Obviously, long term, that is something we need to think through."
While Mozeliak didn't say Martinez is available in advance of the July 31 deadline, teams needing another bat should make a call. That's because Martinez could be an intriguing addition.
Let's start with the basics: Martinez has been a good hitter during his time in the majors. He's batted .307/.375/.497 in nearly 700 big-league plate appearances, including .299/.365/.478 this season. Martinez has shown a sizable platoon split, with his OPS against lefties checking in at 200 points higher. Yet his .828 figure versus righties is better than both the average righty and the average lefty's performance against right-handed pitching.
Diving deeper, Martinez has a disciplined approach at the plate, and his Statcast metrics are certain to make him more appealing to the teams most high on their predictive power. To wit, 17.6 percent of his batted balls during his time in the majors have registered as either "solid" or "barrel" contact -- the average player checks in at 11.6 percent. Martinez's rate of barrels per plate appearance this season places him in company with the likes of Aaron Hicks, J.T. Realmuto, Marcell Ozuna, and Rhys Hoskins -- each considered a legitimately skilled batsman.
So yes, no matter the school of thought, Martinez grades as an above-average hitter. Unfortunately, he's not nearly as skilled as a fielder. He's substandard in the outfield -- probably not a surprise for a soon-to-be 30-year-old who is listed at 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds -- and at first base. An ideal world, Martinez would be slotted in as someone's everyday designated hitter.
That reality can work both for and against a Martinez trade: for in the sense that the Cardinals are perhaps more likely to acknowledge he doesn't fit their roster but that he's too good to sit on a bench, and against because it eliminates half the majors as a potential trade partner. It doesn't help that the AL's playoff field is largely decided, giving few teams reason to make a deal now as opposed to waiting until the winter. The teams who are in it are ...
- The Red Sox, who already have one defensively challenged slugger surnamed Martinez;
- The Yankees, who, with Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, are in a similar boat;
- The Astros, who could use Martinez's stick but may prefer to give Tony Kemp and Kyle Tucker extended looks;
- The Indians, who have a DH but could in theory try hiding Martinez in left field;
- The Mariners, who have a DH and already traded for Denard Span;
- The Athletics, who have enough of the type.
There's one, maybe two potential deals to be made there. That's not a good recipe for getting a worthwhile return.
As such, it makes more sense for the Cardinals to wait and try trading Martinez this winter. Even then, there's no guarantee they'll get much back. Domingo Santana led the Brewers in OPS+ last season and was floated in trade talks over the winter. Yet being a defensive liability made him less appealing in teams' eyes, and the Brewers opted to hold onto him. Much to their dismay, he hasn't had a good season, and he could wind up as a non-tender candidate.
Martinez doesn't have to meet a similar fate. But for better or worse, this is life in modern baseball: being a good hitter is no longer enough, not to keep a lineup spot, nor to spur trade interest.
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