Updated: Dec 28, 2020
Carlos Martinez was an ace of sorts for the St. Louis Cardinals in the mid-2010s. From the beginning of 2015 through July of 2018, National League starting pitchers averaged:
5.54 innings per start 4.22 ERA, 4.18 FIP, 4.12 xFIP
1.32 WHIP, 20.6%-7.9% K%-BB% (2.6 K:BB)
.258/.322/.422/.744 line against
In that same time, Cardinals starting pitchers were better than the National League average. Themselves, they averaged:
5.75 innings per start
3.73 ERA, 3.83 FIP, 3.91 xFIP
1.29 WHIP, 20.9%-7.7% K%-BB% (2.71 K:BB)
.254/.317/.395/.712 line against
Carlos Martinez started 91 games and averaged 6.11 innings pitched in those starts. He had a 3.42 ERA with a still solid 3.62 FIP and 3.80 xFIP in those games started. His 1.26 WHIP was better than league average, as was his 23.2% K%. While his BB% was a bit high at 8.7%, the K:BB was 2.66 - still slightly higher than league average over that time period. He allowed a .237/.314/.359/.673 line against in those starts as well...that was way ahead of the league average.
Carlos was clearly at the top of his game until he got injured in July of 2018. He has since not gotten back to what he needs to be for the Cardinals pitching staff, despite having a very good stint as a closer in 2019. Right now, it seems, is a point in time in which the Cardinals would not mind moving him in a cash neutral deal for hitting. Granted, the hitting would not be able to be completely top flight given Carlos' injury history (and interesting off the field life).
So what could the Cardinals be looking for? I'd like to explore that today.
If Carlos Martinez gets "right" he could quite literally be a Cy Young contender (notice I did not say winner) in any league, as early as next season. If Carlos Martinez doesn't get "right" he quite literally could be out of baseball as quickly as the end of next season. I don't think either of those are hyperbole, but semi-outlier truths.
I'm going to offer Carlos Martinez up to four different teams in trades today and these are not going to be listed in any particular order. One thing to note about these potential deals is the monetary aspect. Carlos Martinez is owed $11.7M in 2021 and is owed a $500k buyout for a 2022 salary of $17M if he does not get retained in the 2022 season. He also has a $500k buyout of a potential 2023 salary of $18M. Carlos Martinez is still just 29 years old in the 2021 season and could potentially be signed through age 31.
Basically, Carlos Martinez is being offered up to four teams today in "salary neutral" swaps, with the Cardinals fully knowing that they might have to either eat some salary in the deal or sweeten the pot with a prospect, depending on the values offered up in trade.
First up is a deal with the Miami Marlins.
The initial and final offer: Carlos Martinez for Corey Dickerson
Corey Dickerson is a left-handed left fielder entering his age 32 season with the Miami Marlins after being signed as a free agent there in 2020. He is owed $8.75M this upcoming season. In his career, Dickerson has hit .284/.327/.497/.824. Dickerson came up with the Colorado Rockies and played part-time there. Ever since moving to the Rays and Pirates (prior to the Marlins in 2020), he earned full season PA in 2016-2018. In those years, he hit .276/.317/.478/.794. He went back to being a part-time player in the 2019 season and mashed .304/.341/.565/.906 with the Pirates and Phillies in a 279 PA season.
Part of the dig on Dickerson is that he does not hit lefties well, as a lefty. That's okay. The Cardinals have right-handed hitting options in Tyler O'Neill (who has a small sample reverse split in the majors, but mashed lefties in the minors), Harrison Bader (who mashes lefties), Lane Thomas, and Dylan Carlson. Dickerson mashes right-handed pitching to the tune of .289/.333/.524/.858 for his career with 45% of his hits against righties going for extra bases! The Cardinals could use that on their team for sure.
So what's the knock on Dickerson? Why would the Marlins do that? Well, Dickerson did not perform well in 2020 for the Marlins. The Corey Dickerson that the Marlins got for 52 games and 210 plate appearances in 2020 gave them a .258/.311/.402/.713 line - good for 6% below league average by OPS+. He's had under 500 PA total in the last two years and is on the wrong side of 30 already. He still hit for league average against right-handed pitching but was even worse against lefties (in just 55 PA).
Dickerson is also a guy that in the past has been a poor defender, statistically (using Outs Above Average - OAA)...but has also been a good defender by those same stats. So, we'll call it a wash and assume he'd be around net neutral.
Also, while the Marlins did not score many more runs than the St. Louis Cardinals in 2020, they allowed nearly half a run more than league average at over 5 runs allowed per game. If they can get Carlos right, then they can potentially have their best pitcher since Jose Fernandez's untimely death in 2016. While it will not make up for that, it would be a huge improvement for their staff and for their team. Meanwhile, the Cardinals could definitely use a power bat from the left side to aid in their offensive woes, and a Corey Dickerson getting most of his PA vs. righties could give you 20 HR in just 450-500 PA.
Next up is a deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The initial offer: Carlos Martinez (and more) for David Peralta
David Peralta is a left-handed hitting left fielder as well. He is entering his age 33 season next year and is signed through his age 34 season in 2022, making just $7.5M each of the next two seasons. Both of those seasons are guaranteed (no options), so the Cardinals would be on the hook for $15M here while the Diamondbacks just $12.7M if they buy out both of the option years from Carlos Martinez (I believe that is how it would work). The cash swing is slightly in the Diamondbacks' favor here overall, however the cash portion in 2021 is in the Cardinals' favor, perhaps providing the Cardinals a way to make this move.
Peralta has averaged a .291/.346/.475/.820 line, good for a 114 OPS+ in the desert. His last 4 years, he's been a .290/.348/.471/.819 guy - a 111 OPS+. However, in the last two years (his age 31-32 seasons) he's dropped to a .284/.342/.451/.793 hitter - a 105 OPS+. The decline has been there, but it's been gradual for David Peralta. Do the Cardinals think that he can help their team enough?
He is another guy who just mashes RHP as a LHB. He has a career .307/.359/.510/.869 line against right-handed pitching, but his line against lefties is much worse at .242/.305/.368/.674 - a line straight out of the Cardinals' outfield the last couple of years. Ugh.
Peralta is a guy who has always been right around league average defensively, by OAA.
Would the Cardinals be able to get a guy with a gradual decline from the Arizona Diamondbacks for just Carlos Martinez? I don't believe so. I think it would cost more. Matt Thompson (give him a follow folks), Prospects Live co-founder, gave me a brief update on the Arizona Diamondbacks' system and said that they could use a power-hitter and/or third baseman in their system. Well, if there's something the Cardinals have a lot of, it is third basemen. I don't know that the Cardinals have enough power in their system to just be giving it away, but if the Diamondbacks would take Juan Yepez then that might be the easiest move.
Hopeful offer: Carlos Martinez and Juan Yepez for David Peralta
Matt Thompson also tells me that the Arizona Diamondbacks' system is flush with pitching prospects. Perhaps you could turn this into a slightly larger deal by offering up Carlos Martinez and one of your bigger third basemen (not named Nolan Gorman or Jordan Walker) for David Peralta and one of their not top 10 pitching prospects?
Final offer: Carlos Martinez and one of Elehuris Montero or Malcom Nunez for David Peralta and one of (in my order of preference) Levi Kelly, Matt Tabor, Blake Walston, Luis Frias, Justin Martinez, or Tommy Henry
Post-publication note: Prospects Live has updated it's Arizona Diamondback prospects list for 2021 as of Monday morning. Check it out. See who you like from this group. Levi Kelly is ranked 12th in their system, Matt Tabor 14th, Blake Walston 11th, Luis Frias 10th, Justin Martinez 24th, and Tommy Henry 21st.
The third deal I would like to discuss today involves the Philadelphia Phillies.
The initial offer: Carlos Martinez for Jean Segura
Jean Segura is a departure from an attempt to acquire a left-handed hitting outfielder. Segura is an okay defensive shortstop who can quite competently cover third base and second base as well. I would move him to second base or third base for the Cardinals if he were acquired and have Edman play the other.. Segura is the costliest (monetarily) of the four we will talk about today. He is owed $14.85M each of the next two years and has a $1M buyout of a 2023 option at $17M. That's a minimum of $30.7M and maximum of $46.7M owed to Segura over the next three seasons. Segura is entering his age 31 season in 2021.
Why would the Cardinals want to do this then? Well, if Matt Carpenter is back to crushing it or one of the myriad third base prospect the Cardinals have is brought to the majors earlier than I think and crush it, Jean Segura could well transition into a utility guy for that second year and backup anywhere on the infield not first base and do it at a high level - but also at a high price.
The Cardinals also might do it because while Segura is a career .285/.327/.407/.734 hitter (98 OPS+), from 2016-18 he was a .308/.353/.449/.803 guy! That reminds me of a Kolten Wong type surge offensively - jumping up to a huge on base percentage for a while and using his speed (75 steals in those three years). That's a 116 OPS+ from an average to above average defensive IF. Of course, if he does THAT he's a starter. Wait...so then why would the Philadelphia Phillies want Carlos Martinez for him?!?!? The last two years, however, Segura has hit .276/.329/.421/.750 (95 OPS+). With him being a middle infielder and turning 31, that could be a poor sign. With his high contact ability, though, and decent defense he does seem to fit the Mike Shildt way - so to speak.
Some additional info, Segura is a right-handed hitter who has hit lefties just slightly better in his career (.030 point OPS difference). In 2017-2020 that difference was a bit more pronounced. With Tommy Edman hitting lefties better as well, maybe the Cardinals would be better against lefties in 2021.
Now comes the part where I have to admit that this is the least likely of the deals to go down, I believe. With the Phillies getting Dave Dombrowski into their organization, they will likely want to keep Segura. The Cardinals would probably be a little iffy on this deal due to the added money in the first place...but knowing that they'd probably have to sweeten the pot a bit, I don't think this has a chance of getting done. The Phillies have one of the worst farm systems in the game, but I don't think Dombrowski really cares about that. He'll just trade anyone and everyone in the system for MLB talent anyway, no matter how good/bad it is. He reminds me of Jocketty in that way.
The last deal I want to discuss is probably the other one that's least likely to happen, but not because of the Cardinals. The Seattle Mariners are the ones that will likely not want to do this - despite having the GM that likes making moves the most out of the group.
The initial offer: Carlos Martinez for Mitch Haniger
Mitch Haniger might very well be the most risky of the guys I'm discussing today, Carlos Martinez included. Haniger is probably an average defender in a corner outfield spot. He is a .267/.348/.480/.827 (125 OPS+) hitter who was even better than that in 2017-2018 at .284/.361/.492/.853 (135 OPS+) in over 1,000 of his 1,500 PA. So why in the world is he risky???
Mitch Haniger got only 283 PA in 2019 before getting injured and has since had a bevy of other injuries that kept him out of baseball in 2020 and has him hopeful for coming back (but unsure if he will) in 2021. Haniger is set to make just over $3M in his first year of arbitration in 2021 and is signed through 2023 on arbitration salaries. And there's the rub. Why would Seattle want to give up a low-cost potentially high ceiling power bat in this market? They won't want to.
The Cardinals would have to sweeten the pot. For sure. 100%. Matt Thompson tells me that the Seattle Mariners could use some infield help in their minor league system. Per Prospects Live's St. Louis Cardinals' list, the top 5 players in their system are all position players and they also have position players at 11, 12, 14, 15, 17, and 20. Elehuris Montero at #11, Edmundo Sosa at #14, Luken Baker at #17, Malcom Nunez at #22, Brendan Donovan at #28, and Juan Yepez at #31 could all be pieces offered up along with Martinez to get the right-handed swinging power hitter Mitch Haniger.
Hopeful offer: Carlos Martinez, Brendan Donovan, and Juan Yepez for Mitch Haniger
I am not sure that they would take that. I am not sure they need that type of help for Haniger. I think giving them a couple of flyers for power factor might be a necessity - to make up losing Haniger's.
Final offer: Carlos Martinez, Juan Yepez, and one of Luken Baker or Elehuris Montero for Mitch Haniger
Between Yepez and Baker, that is a ton of potential power - although potential is all that is until it happens - going the other way. However, it's potential power that I do not mind moving along with Carlos Martinez. I think he could go there and do quite well, like Marco Gonzales did. Haniger might have to pan out if that's the case.
In any case, those are my four ideas that I believe are at least realistic for this crazy 2020-21 offseason. I hope you enjoy.
Thanks to Matt Thompson for the prospect help and to Baseball Savant and Baseball Reference and Fangraphs for their invaluable data.