St. Louis Cardinals: No free ride for Carlos Martinez in 2021

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 28: Carlos Martinez #18 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Minnesota Twins on July 28, 2020 at the Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 28: Carlos Martinez #18 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches against the Minnesota Twins on July 28, 2020 at the Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images) /
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After four seasons of inconsistent performance, the St. Louis Cardinals aren’t giving Carlos Martinez any freebies in 2021.

Carlos Martinez’s career with the St. Louis Cardinals has been one of the most frustrating, disappointing, and polarizing ones in the past decade.

Since his debut as a 21-year-old in 2013, the ceiling was in the stratosphere for the fireballer. After pitching out of the bullpen for his first two seasons, his transition to starting couldn’t have gone much better.

In the three seasons from 2015 and 2017, Martinez threw 580.0 innings with a 3.24 ERA, 8.9 strikeouts per nine, and an ERA+ of 126. After throwing the 2017 season as a 25-year-old, the Cardinals appeared to have a budding ace on their hands.

In 2017, the Cardinals rewarded Martinez with his current five-year, $51M contract that is only guaranteed through 2021 with two team options afterwards. At this point, it seems Martinez will need a miracle to get his two options picked up for 2022 and 2023.

Martinez’s career really derailed due to injury at the core. Injuries in 2018 and 2019 kept him from throwing full time and in 2020, a serious case of COVID-19 and the small sample size left his ERA near 10.00.

In years past, Martinez’s past performance had kept him locked in the rotation as long as he was healthy. Now, that doesn’t sound like it will be the case.

For any player guaranteed $11.7M (especially in a pandemic year), the team might as well leave any role open to them. However, this is the first year that Martinez hasn’t been a lock for the rotation in his career.

The Cardinals have enough young arms where they don’t need to lean on Martinez for big innings. His fall from grace is really a sad thing too.

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Fans initially were onboard with Martinez’s flare on the mound, but when his performance dipped, the appetite went away. Then there was the offseason where the Cardinals urged the rehabbing Martinez to stay in the US for the offseason to rehab with the team doctors, but he didn’t. He showed up to spring training in shape but hadn’t strengthened the right muscles and it led to another lost year.

Add to it the further negative publicity from this winter about Martinez’s fine he received while filming a music video in the Dominican Republic without a mask and it seems the Cardinals brass has had enough.

Reports from earlier this winter stated the team would try and move Martinez to get him a fresh start, but that pursuit has yet to bear fruit.

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If Martinez is still with the club in 2021, the team will take whatever production they can get from him, but I don’t see there being a chance they pick up his options in either of the next two years. If Martinez walks after 2021, it’ll be a sad ending to a promising career for him in St. Louis.