St. Louis Cardinals: What to do with Jose Martinez

Coming off a great year, but with no apparent starting spot in the lineup, what should the St. Louis Cardinals do with Jose Martinez?

Ahh, the DH in the National league would solve all of the St. Louis Cardinals‘ problems. Well I guess adding the DH wouldn’t help the bullpen at all, but it would solve Jose Martinez‘s problems. Chief of which is the fact that as of right now, there is no clear starting position for Jose Martinez.

In 2018, Jose Martinez was arguably the Cardinals best and most consistent offensive force. Finishing the season with the 12th best batting average in the entire major leagues, Martinez’s bat was fantastic. The same couldn’t be said about his defense. His best fielded position in 2018 was first base where he had a measly -5 DRS. While that is better than his -6 DRS in right field, that really isn’t gonna cut it.

So as we trudge towards the start of the 2019 season, does it make sense for the Cardinals to keep such a potent offensive bat on the bench? It doesn’t seem fair to Martinez, a player who didn’t break into the league until he was 28, to force him to a bench role he is overqualified for. The problem is the Cardinals don’t seem too keen on trading away their Martinez either. They seem to be caught in a pinch.

One option would be to have Martinez split time with Dexter Fowler in right field, but that goes against everything the Cardinals have said they want for Fowler. First base, barring injury, is not going to be a spot where Martinez is going to have a chance to start consistently due to Paul Goldschmidt. If Martinez isn’t going to get consistent starts in right field or first base, the bench is really all he’s got.

A bench role is by no means a bad role for Martinez though. Over his career, Martinez has a .404 batting average with a 1.065 OPS. Dan Campbell detailed here why keeping Martinez is the best option for the Cardinals.

While that is about as good a bench bat as you are going to find, the Cardinals do have the option to trade Martinez. He is 30, but isn’t going to be a free agent until 2023 while making league minimum and arbitration the rest of the way. That amount of cheap control for a hitter as good as Martinez could mean he has a fair amount of trade value, but his defensive woes definitely caps it though.

For a team that is all but guaranteed to miss out on Bryce Harper, the other option, other than staying pat, is to keep upgrading the bullpen. This is exactly what Casey Stern said on the Kevin Wheeler Show, and I wholeheartedly agree with it.

Trading Jose Martinez for a bullpen piece could possibly be the best way to transfer his value to another spot on the team. This is all dependent on exactly how much trade value Martinez has though. If the Cardinals determine that he has more value to them in a bench role than what the returning player could bring, then by all means keep Martinez. Jose Martinez would be a perfect DH for an AL team

I know baseball isn’t fair, but I don’t believe it is fair to Martinez to leave him on the bench just to pinch hit and play right field and first base two days a week. The Cardinals and wouldn’t take a loss of value on a player just to get them in a better role. They didn’t even do that when they traded Stephen Piscotty for Yairo Munoz and Max Schrock last year, even when they knew it was the right move.

The St. Louis Cardinals’ front office may feel internal pressure to find a better home for Martinez but again, they won’t just trade him for a bucket of baseballs. The Cardinals are smart enough to make good trades, I believe if they don’t end up moving him, it was because he didn’t have enough value in the trade market to make that worth it for them.

Keeping a player like Martinez for the bench is still a valuable piece for the St. Louis Cardinals. He is loved by the fans and is a great clubhouse presence that could still obviously be traded later during the 2019 season or beyond should the Cardinals see a better fit.