St. Louis Cardinals: Examining Carlos Martinez’s potential 2019 role

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ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 30: Carlos Martinez #18 of the St. Louis Cardinals leaves the game with assistant trainer Chris Conroy due to a shoulder injury in the fifth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Busch Stadium on July 30, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
ST. LOUIS, MO - JULY 30: Carlos Martinez #18 of the St. Louis Cardinals leaves the game with assistant trainer Chris Conroy due to a shoulder injury in the fifth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Busch Stadium on July 30, 2018 in St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /
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The St. Louis Cardinals announced Carlos Martinez would not be throwing for two weeks due to issues with his shoulder. Will this affect his role in 2019?

The worst part about this situation is that it just adds on another floor to the unstable tower that is Carlos Martinez‘s relationship with the St. Louis Cardinals. Martinez has been nurtured to be the ace of the Cardinals rotation for years, and he has demonstrated the talent that is required of that role.

However, there have been numerous obstacles and red flags that have shown up along the way, and Martinez’s ailing shoulder is just the latest in a line of tribulations. The worst part about it is they aren’t all blameless.

It really started when it was revealed that ex-manager Mike Matheny had some questions about the maturity of Martinez, pulling him from the starting rotation. He excelled as a reliever as he has throughout his career and provided a huge boost to an otherwise under-performing bullpen.

The only thing with leaving Martinez in the bullpen is that he has the talent to put together a top-15 starter season, and possibly even better if he remains consistent and healthy. However, the ‘if’s’ there are less than encouraging in many respects.

Consistency

In terms of consistency, Martinez has the ability to maintain long stretches of elite starter production before, yet he has paired those with equally troublesome stretches in recent seasons.

In 2016, he finished the first 11 of his 31 starts with a mediocre 3.76 ERA, but he posted a 2.66 ERA over the final 20 games to redeem his numbers. 2017 told a similar story, just in reverse. In the first half of Martinez’s 32 starts, he posted a 2.88 ERA, but struggled in the back 16 to the tune of a 4.47 ERA.

If Martinez really wants to claim the mantle of ace for the St. Louis Cardinals, these extended periods of struggle must be cut down. I’m not expecting perfection at all points, but having cold streaks that last multiple months from their ace is a tough pill for a team to swallow. The Cardinals need to be able to really count on their ace in the toughest of situations, but Martinez’s consistency issues make that difficult at times.

Rotation Spots

On top of that, there are a couple of young names who the St. Louis Cardinals still see as starters currently working out of the bullpen. While names like Daniel Poncedeleon and Austin Gomber are ones that the Cards have no problems developing into a bullpen role, there are others like Dakota Hudson and Alex Reyes that the team wants to get time as a starter.

There are only so many rotation spots to go around, and I am sure Mike Shildt is not going to want to be constantly rearranging the rotation and throwing guys off their routines. One or two spot starters every so often in place of Adam Wainwright should be fine, but he will presumably want a handful of starts at least.

With Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas already cemented in the rotation, the St. Louis Cardinals theoretically have two top of the rotation starters, with Flaherty showing the upside of an ace. Adding Carlos Martinez to the top of that would make for a deadly staff, but hosting the three man bullpen of Martinez, Jordan Hicks, and Andrew Miller is an appealing option in itself.

A Forced Hand

Another thing to think about is the fact that the St. Louis Cardinals’ might be forced one way or the other with Martinez’s role in a similar way that it was last season. Andrew Miller is a stellar talent, but until he actually pitches for the birds on the bat, we can’t conclude that he will be able to fill the role. If a collapse similar to the Greg Holland scenario (which I doubt will happen) does come, then Martinez may be forced into the bullpen.

In that same vein, Alex Reyes’ availability or lack there of may also dictate where Martinez remains. If Reyes is healthy and looking like he can handle the fifth rotation spot, or if the Cardinals only see him remaining healthy in the bullpen, Martinez’s role might change based on where Reyes can function.

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The Cards also have minor league guys who have shown exceptional upside — Ryan Helsley and Genesis Cabrera in particular. If guys like this emerge this season and perform well, it would make the bullpen strong enough and deep enough so that using Martinez there would be superfluous.

Finally, of course, we get to the continued tension between Martinez and the front office. According to Mark Saxon of The Athletic, Martinez was working with a trainer separate from the Cardinals organization, and John Mozeliak believes that the differing philosophies between the Cardinals and Martinez’s people in the way Martinez’s injury should be treated is what caused this set back.

Martinez has already had an issue with maturity and trust before with the Cardinals, so while a player working with his own trainer is normal, the relationship that has built up before this is not. I don’t think Martinez and his trainers going against the Cardinals intended protocol is a sign that he is going against what the Cardinals are telling him, but it’s something to keep an eye on when considering the other aspects of the relationship.

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While there are a huge variety of factors that go into where the Cardinals would like to slate Martinez, it will lie on his own talent at the end of the day. If he establishes himself as elite and consistent the starting opportunities which are bound to come, the St. Louis Cardinals will have no choice but to let him start. Otherwise, who knows?

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