How Robbie Ray and Drew Smyly have helped the St. Louis Cardinals

Robbie Ray and Drew Smyly did not sign with the St. Louis Cardinals, but that doesn’t mean their signings haven’t helped in a big way.

One of the biggest questions for the St. Louis Cardinals and the rest of the MLB this winter is what exactly the free agent market will look like in the wake of a season of huge losses around baseball. Based on everything the front office of the Cardinals has said, hopes weren’t high.

It was clear things wouldn’t be great, but when the season ended and players like Kolten Wong, Charlie Morton, and Brad Hand all had their relatively affordable options declined, things got very gloomy.

At that time, it was clear that teams were protecting themselves. Nobody knows if fans will be back in the stands in 2021, so teams leaned toward self-preservation and immediate flexibility when it came time to player options.

Derrick Goold has reported that one of the Cardinals’ goals this winter is to find a new home for oft-injured starting pitcher Carlos Martinez. Martinez is owed $11.5M in 2021 before reaching two team options for $17M and $18M, respectively. If Martinez is on top of his game, this is a bargain for him. Sadly, Martinez has dealt with injuries and adversity for about three straight years now, pulling him into “change of scenery” territory.

Before the Cardinals ultimately chose to cut Wong loose, picking up the option seemed like a no-brainer. Even if the team didn’t want to pay Wong, a Gold Glove second baseman with near-average offense is still worth more than what the $12.5M option paid him. The decision to decline the option spoke to the Cardinals not believing they’d be able to find a taker for Wong, painting a bleak picture for their ability to trade Martinez.

However, two recent signings may be turning the tide. Since the start of November, Robbie Ray and now Drew Smyly have signed contracts that seem too good to be true given their production.

Ray signed a one-year, $8M deal with the Blue Jays after putting up a 6.62 ERA over 51.2 innings in 2020. Traded from Arizona to the Blue Jays halfway through the year, Ray improved slightly when he got to Toronto but still didn’t perform that well in his age-28 season.

On Monday, Smyly signed a fruitful one-year, $11M deal with the Braves after throwing just 26.1 innings in 2020.

Smyly did show an uptick in velocity, but at 31, the odds that he has turned around his entire career are not high. Both of these seem to be an overpay for what the market was expected to be.

Maybe, just maybe, the market will be more fruitful than expected.

Maybe, just maybe, this means the Cardinals will be able to get some value out of trading Carlos Martinez.

If the market had been what was expected, the Cardinals would’ve had to take almost nothing back in return for dumping Martinez’s salary. Now, all signs point to there being more of a market than expected for the 29-year-old.

Martinez threw just 20 innings this season and had a 9.90 ERA. However, he was one of the first members of the St. Louis Cardinals to contract COVID-19, from which he had to go to the hospital. Plenty of the players in the MLB, as well as other athletes, have reported longer stretching effects from COVID-19 on their ability to perform.

It is not at all out of the question that Martinez’s season-long numbers were sunk by lasting effects from the virus.

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Ideally, the Cardinals swap Martinez for another player in need of a change in scenery. Even if the Cardinals have to take on some salary back the other way, the odds that they can save some money from moving Martinez’s $11.5M salary are increasing with each free agent starter that is signed.