Since donning the no. 18 following the death of his lifelong friend, Oscar Taveras, Carlos Martinez has pitched his way to fan-favorite status among Cardinal Nation, and for good reason. Who could forget Carlos, unable to hold back tears on the anniversary of Taveras’ debut, shutting out the Dodgers over seven innings?
Carlos is also one of the best young pitchers in baseball. Among pitchers ages 24-25, Carlos ranked: 4th in IP, 4th in WAR, and 2nd in ERA in 2016. Based on Pitch Type Linear Weights, he had the second best fastball and third best slider.
Carlos possesses one of the best fastballs in the entire sport, averaging 96.5 mph. His 3.3 WAR ranked 19th among all qualifying pitchers. He ranked 10th in ERA, at 3.04.
Cardinals fans don’t need convincing that Carlos is legit. I intend to provide some context for a possible extension.
What Would Carlos Command on the Open Market?
Kenta Maeda, the Dodgers rookie righthander from Asia, posted the same WAR as Martinez in 2016. The base salary of his extension-laced contract is only $3 million, but he agreed to incentives of $250,000 for every 10 IP over 90 and $1 million for his 15th, 20th, 25th, 30th and 32nd starts, according to Fangraphs. In total, he was paid $10 million in 2016, or 20 times more than Martinez. Considering that Maeda was signed out of Asia with no prior MLB service time, it is not unlikely that he would command far more on the open market now.
Pitchers who performed worse than Martinez in 2016 include John Lackey ($16 million), Cole Hamels ($22.5 million), C.C. Sabathia ($26 million), Adam Wainwright($19.5 million), and Mike Leake ($12 million).
Carlos earned $0.5 million.
He enters arbitration this offseason, and MLBTR projects Carlos to earn $5.3 million in 2017. I think the number could go a little bit higher than that, probably closer to $7 million. $7 million would shatter the record for a first-time arbitration eligible pitcher, $4.35 million granted to Dontrelle Willis in 2006.
Suppose Carlos has a career year in 2017. Add two wins to his 2016 record and subtract three losses and now his 2017 record is 18-6. He threw 16 more innings in 2016 than 2015, so suppose he does the same from 2016 to 2017. Now he is at 211 IP. Take his career high K/9 (9.22) and lower his ERA to 2.80, and you have a Cy Young-type stat line.
I’m no fan of wins and losses, but it can drive negotiations. A pitcher with those numbers would probably command well over $10 million in arbitration.
A Carlos Martinez extension would probably happen during Spring Training. The club has extended Yadier Molina, Kolten Wong, Matt Carpenter, and Allen Craig during Spring Training. Buying out one or two of Martinez’s free agent years would be ideal, which would bring the total length of the extension to five years, covering his age 25-30 seasons.
The value of an extension would probably come in at around $10 million per year. Considering the costs of some pitchers who were worse than Carlos in 2016, it would still be a good value for the Cardinals. It is also likely that Carlos will develop better command and durability going forward, the Cardinals could probably go into the $12-$14 million range in terms of average annual value for his free agent years..
An extension would allow the Cardinals to keep Carlos Martinez while allowing Alex Reyes the time to develop into the pitcher many in the front office think he can be. To compete with the Cubs long term, the Cardinals need both Reyes and Martinez to be pillars of the rotation.
Thanks for reading, and let me know in the comments or on Twitter what you think about an extension.