St. Louis Cardinals: Carlos Martinez may be the biggest x-factor in 2020
By Matt Graves
Carlos Martinez is returning to the St. Louis Cardinals’ rotation this year and could be the biggest x-factor of the 2020 season.
It may not feel like it, but 2020 will be Carlos Martinez‘s eighth year in the MLB. The 28-year-old righty came up with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2013 and while he only threw 28.1 innings in the regular season, he was thrown right into the fire.
Throwing in 12 appearances in the Cardinals’ World Series run that year was a great experience for the 21-year-old. From there, Martinez was the subject of some fan anger as he had issues with maturity among other things. However, the majority of the time he was fairly dominant on the mound.
Between 2015 and 2017, Martinez made 92 starts with a 3.24 ERA, two complete games, 1.241 WHIP, 8.9 K/9 and was 26% above average over that time. In 2018 though, Martinez dealt with shoulder issues and only threw 118.2 innings.
Coming into 2019, Martinez and Jack Flaherty were supposed to lead the rotation into the sunset, but Martinez showed up with his shoulder not yet strong enough. At first, my thought was that he was being lazy, but it was reported that while Martinez was working out a lot, he wasn’t working out the correct way, leading to his shoulder still not being strong enough.
It was especially frustrating because Martinez had spent the offseason working out in his native Dominican Republic even when the Cardinals requested that he stay in the USA and work out under their care. Either way, the open slot opened the door for Dakota Hudson to jump into the rotation and Martinez was out for the first month and a half of the season.
When he returned, it was deemed that his shoulder would never allow him to build up the strength to start again so he moved to the bullpen. As we saw in 2019, he was overall really good out of the bullpen in the closers spot. Martinez had his hiccups but was overall good.
In 2020 though, he is going back to the starting rotation and will be a huge part of determining the team’s success. In 2019, the Cardinals’ rotation was so good in large part because they suffered (other than Martinez at the beginning of the year) no major sustained injuries. As we know from years past, that’s an anomaly compared to the norm.
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With Adam Wainwright coming back a year older, there’s no way to tell for sure whether or not he will still be able to hold up the way he has his whole career. Any starter could get hurt at any time. For backup, the Cardinals did sign Kwang-Hyun Kim, but he is also a huge unknown transferring to the MLB.
At the top of the rotation, Jack Flaherty will lead the way (please stay healthy) but behind him, production could fall off. When Carlos Martinez was at his best from 2015-2017, he was the top-end of the rotation talent that everyone expected him to be. It’s been a couple of years since he produced at that level, but he’s also in the prime of his career. He’s not 35.
Expecting Carlos Martinez to come back to the rotation and put up 200 innings, a 3.00 ERA with a 9 K/9 may be foolish, but he’s done it consistently before and could do it again. If he does, the Cardinals rotation could be top-three in the National league.
In the alternate direction, Martinez could come into Spring Training with his shoulder still not strong enough and be moved into that closer’s role once again. I’m sure this will be thrown around with Jordan Hicks out until at least midseason, but I don’t think the Cardinals are going to do that unless they are forced to.
Martinez as a closer makes the bullpen better but leaves the rotation exposed. The rotation will always be a better fit for Martinez.
The other way to look at this is in terms of trade value. With Martinez still under contract until 2022 at a reasonable price, he’s an extremely valuable trade chip as a top-end starter. From the closers spot, he still has value, it’s just greatly diminished.
I am not arguing that the Cardinals should trade Martinez, but there have been rumblings at certain times that suggest the team may be interested in moving him. Who knows.
In the best-case scenario, Carlos Martinez joins Jack Flaherty at the top of the Cardinals’ rotation in 2020 and they ride off into the sunset. Worst case, Martinez is injured and doesn’t play or ends up in the bullpen. Both are just as possible which is what makes Martinez this year’s biggest x-factor.