As the baseball world ponders the probability of Justin Turner's bat cooling off, the St. Louis Cardinals are prepping their offseason to do list-and the list is quite simple.
- Acquire a big lineup defining bat.
- Fortify the eighth and ninth innings of the bullpen
- Get a starter who can guarantee 200 innings of work.
Let's be honest and agree on something, though. The first one is the most important for things to change moving forward for the Cardinals. The Cards could retain Juan Nicasio, find another quality arm for setup duty, and the bullpen would be fine. The young arms of Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, and especially Alex Reyes just need time before they are ready for rotation anchor duty.
What the Cardinals truly lack-and the Chicago Cubs currently have two of-is a legit lineup wrecking ball. A superstar that isn't just pretty good. I don't want a hitter who gets the job done, gives back more value than his contract, and finishes in the top ten in MVP voting. The Cardinals need a knockout artist.
I've written about words about Giancarlo Stanton than Frank Grillo recently (which is an oddity), so the appeal of his services practically sells itself. But what about J.D. Martinez, the other big fish on the market looking for a home?
The temptation of Martinez is clear for one reason: unlike Stanton, he won't cost the Cardinals any players to acquire. Stanton's contract is monstrous, but Derek Jeter and the Miami Marlins will want a few players to let him go, especially after Stanton's ridiculous 2017 season where he came very close to the 60 home run mark and stayed healthy for the entire season.
How good is Martinez? He crushed 29 home runs, hit .302, and slugged .741 for the Arizona Diamondbacks last year-but hold on for the real kicker. Martinez did that in only 62 games after coming over from the Detroit Tigers, where he hit 16 home runs and compiled a 1.018 OPS in 57 games. That's right. In half a season, Martinez put together a second half that most Major League Baseball players would love to have for a full year. He's a freakishly talented hitter. In only 119 games, he provided an entire season of true value. Think of Matt Holliday and Jose Bautista combined, and you have this guy.
2017 wasn't a fluke season for the rightfielder either. Martinez's average OPS from 2014-16 was .900 and his slugging percentage never dipped below .540 and he hit at least 22 home runs in every season. Martinez's 3.8 WAR was actually less than his 2015 total of 5.0, so he's capable of more than his accomplishments last season. You aren't getting a one trick pony here with limited rounds in his chamber.
He's 30 years old, so if he gets the 6-7 year contract that he demands, he will be right at the "need to cut loose" mark at the end. The Cardinals won't pay a guy 25 million dollars when he is 38 years old like some other clubs most certainly will. He's at a safe age to splurge on and his bat is worth it.
How much? After finishing a modest two year/18 million dollar contract, Martinez is set for a big raise. According to a recent chat session with Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the price on Martinez will command a contract similar to what Matt Holliday and Jayson Werth got when they were 30 years old. Seven years around 25 million dollars per year is where the asking price will be at, so it will be steep, but money shouldn't be an option for the Cardinals, especially if they value their prospects as much as perceived.
What's the hazard behind acquiring Martinez? Outfield defense isn't going to improve. Martinez is an average defender at best. His -7.7 Ultimate Zone Rating in 2017 with the two teams cost the Tigers and D-Backs five runs, and he only threw out three baserunners. He didn't show a massive decline from 2016, but he won't be winning many games with his glove. With Dexter Fowler hopefully moving to left and Tommy Pham in center, the outfield won't improve drastically, but won't hurt the Cardinals more than 2016-17.
That is where Stanton is better than Martinez. Stanton's best type of season destroys Martinez, as evidenced last year. And Stanton's defense is much better than Martinez, so the Cards would be in better shape there. Stanton has an opt out that may limit the long term liability for the Cardinals, and he's a bigger star than Martinez.
But Martinez would only cost money, and his bat would elevate a decent Cardinals lineup.
If the Cardinals are to make a huge push back to the top of the National League heap, they need a Stanton or Martinez. Each player has allure, and while Stanton holds the higher dosage of value, no one should complain if the team brings in Martinez. Unlike Josh Donaldson, you'd have long term coverage in the middle of the lineup. Unlike Christian Yelich, you'd have a potential superstar.
Most importantly, J.D. Martinez is a strong player that the Cardinals currently do not possess. While he's not as sexy as Giancarlo, the temptation of Martinez is quite strong.