St. Louis Cardinals Banking on Carlos Martinez’s Ace Potential with Extension

The St. Louis Cardinals have reportedly agreed to a five-year extension with young right-hander Carlos Martinez. The team’s expectations for the 25-year-old are clear.

Over the past two seasons, Carlos Martinez has been one of the more promising young starting pitchers in the game of baseball. The St. Louis Cardinals are betting on the 25-year-old continuing on his current trajectory, reportedly agreeing to a five-year contract extension with the right-hander.

According to Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the deal is worth $51 million. Martinez will make $4.5 million in the first year of the pact, followed by $11.5 million each of the next four seasons. The agreement also includes two option years at $17 million and $18 million, respectively, raising the maximum potential value of the contract to seven years and $86 million.

2017 was to be Martinez’s first arbitration year, and he and the Cards were due to go to a hearing next week. The new deal sets a record for a player entering their first year of arbitration. Before the extension, Martinez would have been eligible for free agency following the 2019 campaign. Now he is under team control through at least 2021, and possibly as far as the 2023 season if both options are picked up.

The deal represents a prodigious payday for Martinez at an early juncture in his career. He only turned 25 near the end of September, so the new contract will take him through his age-29 season, pre-options. Initially signed by the Red Sox as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2009, Martinez was suspended by MLB for a year after it was discovered he had falsified his identity.

Martinez signed with the Cardinals the following year, and he soon became one of the more highly-regarded prospects in baseball. He made his major league debut in 2013 at age 21, and spent the first two seasons of his career working primarily out of the bullpen. It’s what he accomplished as a starter in 2015 and 2016, however, that compelled St. Louis to lock him up long-term.

In 2015, Martinez logged a 14-7 record to the tune of a 3.01 ERA, 1.29 WHIP and 2.92 K/BB ratio over 179.2 innings. Last year he proved he was no fluke, notching 16 more wins with a 3.04 ERA, 1.22 WHIP and 2.49 K/BB across 195.1 frames. The worst you could say about Martinez’s 2016 campaign was that his K/9 rate slipped a bit from 9.2 to 8.0. It barely affected him, though, as his ERA+ actually rose from 130 to 135.

By inking Martinez to a multi-year extension, the Cardinals are putting a lot of faith in his future. If he continues to grow and progress, becoming the kind of pitcher they envision him to be, then the terms of the deal – even the two option years – should be financially beneficial to them. At his age, it’s certainly possible Martinez could still experience some hurdles in the years ahead. But the numbers he put up the last two seasons, approaching the 200-inning mark each time, are more than encouraging.

It’s clear the Cards see Martinez as an ace-type starting pitcher in their rotation. Fortunately for them, he’s not the only young hurler in their stable who fits that bill. 22-year-old Alex Reyes impressed in his first taste of big league action last year (1.57 ERA in 46 IP), and the sky’s the limit on MLB Pipeline’s #6-ranked prospect.

A strong pitching staff has traditionally been the bedrock of St. Louis’ success, but that strength began to get away from them in 2016. The 4.33 ERA generated by their starters was good for a modest 13th in MLB, contributing to the club falling short of the postseason. There are still question marks there, with an aging Adam Wainwright, Mike Leake and Michael Wacha coming off poor seasons, and Lance Lynn returning from Tommy John surgery. The Cardinals are expecting Martinez to lead the way, and his new extension underscores that belief.

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