Sometimes, great success stories simply aren't enough when practical measures are required.
Jose Martinez came out of nowhere last year, hitting 14 home runs in only 106 games with an OPS of .897 for the St. Louis Cardinals after a decade in the minors. The success has continued this summer, with Martinez slugging .13 home runs with an impressive slash line of .301/.367/.484. In a nutshell, "Cafe" has held up well in his sophomore campaign, becoming a viable weapon that can be placed anywhere in the lineup.
Unfortunately, the Cardinals are headed downhill, and the climb back up may not be as swift as many would hope. Their playoff hopes are dwindling by the day, and Martinez's bat hasn't been enough to keep him in the lineup. Mike Matheny has admitted that the pecking order currently places Martinez with Dexter Fowler (yikes!) behind a rising Harrison Bader. Neither of those guys could hit like Martinez right now with a wishing well and snake charmer at their disposal.
Still, reality has Martinez starting less games in July than he did in June, so what do the Cardinals do about that? Find a trade partner. Now, the fine young Cardinals writer Graham Jacobi thinks otherwise, and wrote about it for Redbird Daily this week. Graham doesn't think the juice is worth the squeeze when it comes to letting Martinez walk before the end of the season. But I happen to differ, because some American League team wouldn't mind adding an .850 OPS with hits to all fields. I mean, come on.
Ken Rosenthal wrote a column for The Athletic stating that the Cardinals should move Martinez while his value is high, and I couldn't agree more. Martinez will likely never be as valuable as he is right now to another team. He will turn 30 years old on July 25, but here's the most intriguing thing about Martinez to other teams: he's not a free agent until 2023. Arbitration doesn't kick in until 2020. Who wouldn't want a slice of that for a prospect or two.
The Twins were mentioned by Rosenthal as a possible landing spot for a DH type, and it's not an unsound theory. Logan Morrison was signed to a one year deal worth $6.3 million over the winter, but he's currently hitting .193 and landed himself on the disabled list. He's 11 months older than Martinez, but may be in a more stiff decline mode after a surprise emergence last year.
The Morrison deal contains a 2019 option, but do the Twins really want to fork over millions to him when they can get Martinez for $560,000? Why take the risk when a guy like Martinez exists on the market? For the record, few Cardinals should be untouchable at this point, and Martinez surely isn't one of them. If there's a prospect in the Twins system to be had, make the call.
It's not easy losing a productive bat like Martinez, but the Cardinals have to think about the future-something their versatile journeyman slugger may not be a part of. If Martinez can't find his way into the lineup over Bader or if the Cards put Gyorko at third base which moves Matt Carpenter to first base this season, what changes next season?
There are less than a handful of designated hitters in the American League who are performing better than Martinez's .851 OPS at the moment, so it isn't like he couldn't help a team out. Once again, he makes less than a million dollars and can't renegotiate until 2020. Don't forget that.
Please understand Martinez won't get much better in the field. His footwork is terrible at first base, and I haven't been as uncomfortable watching a man play right field since Michael Madsen played the position in The Natural. He crashed through the wall eventually, for the record. Martinez is a liability in the field.
Martinez is a good guy and a great story, but sometimes that isn't enough for a team heading in the wrong direction. You have a guy who is a natural fit for a DH and not for a National League team. If you can get a prospect out of the deal and add that body to the retooling for the next 3-5 years, you do it. There's a reason he is only worth 0.9 WAR via Baseball Reference in the middle of July. The runs he gives you on offense are deleted with his defense. That's not a winning formula or something that will change. Imagine if he does get hurt or hits a major skid at the plate. The thrill will be gone quick.
What are the chances of this happening? I'd say 50-50. If the Cardinals continue to lose, John Mozeliak will look at ways to find value out of the pieces that don't fit long term. He will do it because that's the fastest way to get ready to compete for the playoffs again.
The Cardinals' best bet for reloading or survival is leaning on stellar defense, and that doesn't include Jose Martinez. It's been a good time watching a guy launch into the big leagues, but it's a tale that doesn't have an ending in St. Louis.
That's what I think. What do you think? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @buffa82.