Carlos Martinez starts Spring Training with not only his St. Louis Cardinals career but his MLB career on the line.
It’s hard to come to grips with what’s happened to Carlos Martinez’s career with the St. Louis Cardinals since 2017, and why. Not only has his performance on the mound suffered in recent years, but it also appears some of his decisions in his personal life have negatively impacted his image. During this offseason, I think it’s fair to say Carlos Martinez has become the punching bag for many fans.
How did we get here?
For the three years from 2015 to 2017, Martinez had developed into the Cardinals’ ace with a 42-27 record, an ERA of 3.24, and an ERA+ of 126. In fact, the Cardinals front office had so much confidence in him, before the start of the 2017 season, they rewarded him with a five-year extension worth $51 million.
He, in return, rewarded the Cardinals back. In 2017, he pitched 205 innings, threw two complete games on the way to a 12-11 record and a 3.64 ERA. Additionally, his fellow players named him to the All-Star team for the second time in his career.
Injuries and more injuries
However, after 2017, Martinez’s career gradually started to become unglued. Two injuries in 2018, eventually saw him regulated to the bullpen to finish the year. Another injury early in 2019, had the Cardinals again assigned him to the bullpen, eventually taking over the closer’s role.
Although effective in that closer’s role in 2019 (24 saves out of 27 save attempts), in 2020 the Cardinals decided to return the 6-0, 200lb right-hander to the rotation. Nonetheless, this decision blew up in the Cardinals and Martinez’s face.
After a COVID-19 diagnosis and a strained left oblique, Martinez was limited to just five starts. His season collapsed, putting up a 9.90 ERA while giving up six home runs in only 20 innings.
Then came the offseason
During the 2020 season, the St. Louis Cardinals were forced to shut down their season for 17 days due to several players and coaches testing positive for COVID-19. Carlos Martinez was one of those players, which also included Yadi Molina, Paul DeJong, Junior Fernandez, Kodi Whitley, and Edmundo Sosa.
The exact cause or source of the outbreak was never explained publicly. However, having to temporarily shut down their season was an embarrassment for a Cardinal organization that takes such pride in its public image.
Martinez has had a series of personal incidents dating back to the 2016 season, when he was granted leave from the team to deal with a civil suit in Miami, Florida.
In November, Carlos Martinez was accused by local officials in the Dominican Republic of breaking COVID-19 regulations during a mass gathering. Martinez later apologized for his actions, but not before the Cardinals felt it was necessary to investigate and then issue a statement condemning “anyone from our organization knowingly violating community laws or health regulations.”
Going into spring training
The news is not all bad for Carlos Martinez as he enters Spring Training. During the Dominican Winter League, he pitched 15 innings in three starts, allowed only four earned runs, struck out 15, and only walked three.
Additionally, Martinez is expressing confidence in himself. Before the start of Spring Training, he said he “feels fine” and is “100% ready.”
But still, it must be said that Carlos Martinez enters 2021 with his back up against the wall. This is the final guaranteed year of his contract, with the Cardinals holding team options in ’22 and ’23. It’s hard to see the Cardinals exercising those options unless Martinez rebounds to a pre-2018 type year.
The Cardinals will make sure he will get his opportunities, either as a member of the rotation or possibly, as the team closer.
My final thoughts
So here we are. Carlos Martinez starts Spring Training with his future with the Cardinals and even his baseball career on the line. Let me be clear, I’m not trying to be overdramatic, but a repeat of 2020 or another off-the-field incident would cause irreparable damage to his baseball career.
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Many fans are ready to dump off Carlos Martinez due to their frustration with his inconsistent performance in the last few years. They are also losing patience with his public off-the-field lifestyle.
But we have to be honest with ourselves. We are not really concerned about his personal lifestyle. If Martinez had won a Cy Young Award in 2020, we wouldn’t be talking about what he does during the offseason in the Dominican Republic or Miami.
No, what we want to see is what he will do on the mound, everything else is just background noise. I have confidence, with his career at stake, Martinez will rebound in 2021. Whether the Cardinals bring him back in 2022, is an issue we will be talking about after the season.
Regardless, we all should be pulling for Martinez this season.