May 25, 2016. The Kansas City Royals traded Jose Martinez to the St. Louis Cardinals for cash considerations. No players, just cash.
Basically, they received a few barbecue recipes from the people of the Lou in exchange for Martinez's services.
The Royals never gave Martinez a true shot, keeping him chained to the bench, which could have been located anywhere across the minor league system and world
Imagine going to a pool hall and keeping your newly purchased stick in the case. Martinez collected his first hit in a professional game in 2006 playing in the Venezuelan Winter League, yet didn't see a Major League game until 2016 with St. Louis.
Let's just say things have gone swimmingly for the baseball player voted easiest to admire. A gracious guy in person who doesn't let the hardships of his homeland trickle into a conversation with media, Martinez saves his anger for the pitchers that climb a mound and attempt to fool him.
Here's a guy who has been separated from his kids for periods of time due to troubles with Visas and the new laws put in place by our government, but he always cracks a smile. That doesn't count towards a player's WAR, but it sure lowers the stress.
After an MLB appetizer in 2016, Martinez made a splash in 2017, batting .309 in 106 games. It was the .518 slugging percentage and 14 home runs inside of 300 at-bats that caught your eye, making you wonder why the Royals passed on the then 27-year-old slugger.
The question soon became more simple: could he do it again?
Martinez did just that, hitting .305 in 152 games and adding 17 home runs and 30 doubles to the mix. The slugging percentage and overall OPS didn't plummet, and his bat kept him in the lineup even when his erratic glove cost the team runs. Overall, making league minimum each year, Martinez produced over three wins for the team in 2017-18.
Martinez works over pitchers.
A strikeout rate of just 18% coupled with 49 walks in 2018 aided his .300 average, allowing him to drive the ball to all fields routinely.
He doesn't get cheated, and he will watch pitches go by if they are not to his liking. Martinez doesn't do any favors for pitchers, swinging at continuous bad pitches out of the zone. He takes the close ones and hammers the ill-advised offerings.
When a guy can hit .300 in back to back seasons with some slug and pop attached, you take notice no matter what his glove amounts to.
So when spring training rolled around this year, the Cardinals didn't waste any time in rewarding a hard worker with skill like Martinez. They didn't have to give him a two year contract worth over $3 million, but they felt it was needed. There were arbitration years left to spend, but John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch decided against waiting.
After 3,000 at-bats in the minor leagues spread out across the world, they thought it was time. After being told he wasn't worth a player in a trade by his former team, they thought it was time. After being spun around in trade rumors all winter, they thought it was time. "Deserve" and "millionaire" don't share a sentence without ridicule being dished out, but Martinez deserved security. The assurance in knowing a payday is coming your way.
Here's the thing. Martinez can continue being a weapon for the Cardinals, even if he's as much of a secret anymore.
With Marcell Ozuna slowly making his way back from shoulder surgery and Dexter Fowler crawling back to baseball credibility in right field, the stage is set for Martinez to earn more playing time this year.
Tyler O'Neill is an impressive young slugger and should apply his own brand of pressure to the regulars, but I wouldn't sleep on Martinez sneaking in and doing some damage.
As many baseballs as O'Neill smashes 450 feet, he serves up a stiff breeze to the field box level at the moment. Over a month or matter of weeks, Martinez is still the best reserve for the Cardinals, at least when it comes to pure hitting.
He may not go in expecting 100 games and 400 at-bats, but he'll be ready.
With Martinez, his unique set of skills revolve around versatility. Doing what is needed at a moment's notice. He can give you four at-bats that not only help him get on base, but inform the rest of the lineup about the pitcher's tendencies and abilities. He can come off the bench late and wreck a tied game.
Whatever you need, Martinez has got it. And he'll do it with a smile and sense of humor that every baseball team facing down six months and 162 games badly needs.
When it comes to Jose Martinez, WAR doesn't tell you the whole story.
You need to step back, look at his past, his current place, and take it all in. In more ways than one, he's going to be a valuable asset for the Cardinals in 2019 and beyond.