To this point in the season, through all the ups and downs of mediocrity, José Martínez has been reliable. His bat had helped keep the lineup afloat while DeJong was out. Early on it seemed Pham picked up right where he left off in 2017, possibly on his way to his first all star nomination. Since April 27th though, Tommy has completely lost his groove at the plate and it hurts to watch. Over his last 61 games, he has hit .204/.274/.360 with a 27% K rate. What once was an exciting ballplayer is now just another question mark for this team.
Dexter Fowler, the 82.5 million dollar man, got off to a horrendous start in 2017. Then as the season progressed, he found his way into the cleanup spot and excelled. For that reason I was not worried when Fowler couldn’t hit his weight in April and May. Eventually he’d get it together right? This has not been the case as he has helped contribute to the downfall of our once vaunted outfield. His slump has continued into July and fans are growing restless.
We watched Marcell Ozuna struggle for 50 games without his toe tap. This caused many to doubt his capabilities. Outside of a stretch of 13 games or so in June, we still haven’t seen the best of him. His ground ball rate is severely dampening his power potential and causes his very misleading BABIP .320. While he still could be the big bat (I think he will be), he’s left a lot to be desired.
I love watching José Martínez step up to bat. It brings me joy knowing his personality sparks fun in the clubhouse. As good as all that is, his fielding abilities have caused a lot of frustration. He is just not a first baseman. His particular skill set is better suited in the American League, where he can bat without his glove holding him back. While as it easy as it may seem to just send Martinez off as a DH, there are plenty of reasons to believe the market may just cause him to stay put.
The Need for a Designated Hitter
When we watch Martínez step up to the plate, we all feel comfortable predicting he’ll end up on base. The man is a hitting machine that we stole away from the Royals. That’s not the issue in finding a trade partner. The problem is that Martínez’s bat is the only thing giving him value. As seen in the way free agents like Logan Morrison were treated, players who had shown impressive ability to slug but lacked defensive versatility didn’t have a market (outside of the otherworldly J.D.). This coincides with the rising amount of home runs in the game today. Power isn’t hard to come by anymore, as explained by Tom Verducci in the following excerpt:
Now just because teams weren’t interested in those players doesn’t mean that José is an unattractive trade target. His team control is valuable. What this indicates is that DH/1B is not a pressing need or concern for contending teams. Otherwise, relievers would not have dominated in free agency.
So far in 2018, only three teams (Royals/Twins/Tigers) have had the spot generate negative WAR cumulatively (according to Fangraphs). Those are also the only teams whose designated hitters have a wrc+ well below league average (wrc+ 100). Those teams are very far out of the playoff race by now, and won’t seek to contend in the second half.
Latest notes: #STLCards/Moustakas?; #Athletics forcing issue; #RedSox/#Yankees building up for weekend; the one that got away from Dombrowski; market for #Tigers’ Fulmer; more. https://t.co/TNGp0EPekF
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) June 29, 2018
While Ken Rosenthal made a connection to the Twins potentially needing a DH after 2018, it seems like a stretch. For one, the Twins do not seem like the organization that would cut their losses (Morrison) or block Sano (future). Outside of Fernando Rodney the team does not possess pitching that could help us. Nor does it have the controllable pitching for the future. With what looks like a rejuvenated Wong at the plate right now, the idea of pursuing Brian Dozier just isn’t so good anymore.
Would José Be An Upgrade?
It’s always seemed interesting to me how simple it is for fans to say trade José Martínez. Sure he can hit, and he’s arguably the best natural hitter on the Cardinals. But is he really good enough to DH? To see how he fares in comparison, I generated a chart via Fangraphs that puts him amongst the players the AL teams have used regularly.
*Excluding The Three Previously Mentioned Organizations*
Designated Hitters (Ranked By OPS):
(Stats as of July 10th)
BOS, J.D. Martinez– OPS 1.047
SEA, Nelson Cruz– OPS .909
TEX, Shin-Soo Choo– OPS .903
NYY, Giancarlo Stanton– OPS .864
STL, José Martínez- OPS .840
OAK, Khris Davis– OPS .837
HOU, Evan Gattis– OPS .820
TOR, Curtis Granderson– OPS .804
BAL, Mark Trumbo– OPS .803
WSOX, Matt Davidson– OPS .797
TB, C.J. Cron– OPS .790
CLE, Edwin Encarnacion– OPS .775
LAA, Albert Pujols– OPS .687
With the exception of poor Albert Pujols out in Los Angeles, the numbers speak for themselves. The upgrade by adding José’ services just isn’t that enticing.
There isn’t more than a .065 difference from those beneath him on the rankings in terms of OPS. Outside of the top 4, the players involved have been worth around 1.0 fwar, ranging from 0.3-1.1 fwar. While true that .840 compared to .775 is superior, you have to include all factors. For one, only two (Cruz/Gattis) reach free agency after this season is over. This means that Martinez will still be blocked for the 2019 season.
Unlike most on this list, José lacks true major league experience that would prove he is an established threat at the plate. As many would forget, he has still yet to play more than one full season of games. Outside of Davidson, he is 1,162 plate appearances and 290 games behind the next guy (Cron). Sure, he was kept in the minors for too long, but he’s not safe from the “sophomore slump” in my eyes yet.
Of the 12 teams mentioned, eight have maintained at least a .500 record. Only five of those eight are either within four games of leading their division or already leading it themselves. The Red Sox, Yankees, Indians, Astros, and Mariners. That eliminates seven ball clubs from the list based on either below average records or a steep hill to climb for the postseason. With three of the remaining teams already possessing fantastic DHs, that leaves Houston and Cleveland.
(The Angels were eliminated based on the contract—3/87 after 2018– and health of Albert Pujols; not to mention their commitment to Ohtani as a hitter)
The Issue With Houston/Cleveland
To repeat once more, neither of these teams need a DH. Evan Gattis and Edwin Encarnacion are very impressive. While the OPS is superior, there are ways adding José could make things more difficult for each to handle. If Houston were to make this move, it would force Gattis back to catcher or to first base, where the regulars, Max Stassi and Yuli Gurriel are already providing just as much value. With Cleveland’s limited payroll flexibility, they are firmly committed to Encarnacion and Yonder Alonso. They will not be seeking to add another DH.
Competition on Market
The big deterrent for JM moving to the AL is the fact a very similar player already exists out on the market. Nick Castellanos, currently the right fielder for Detroit, is everything José seems to be and more. He has proven he can destroy the opposition and wouldn’t need to adjust to a new league.
Martínez- .290/.360/.480 / Castellanos- .306/.360/.524
Castellanos has the track record to back up the fact he is the superior trade target. Among players from 2016-2018 to have at least 1000 at bats in MLB, only 43 have a higher wrc+ than him. His 41 home runs from 2017-now are good for 20th in all of baseball among qualifiers. He sits right ahead of Aaron Judge at fifth in hard hit % overall. The Tigers are committed to a rebuild with the trade of Justin Verlander, giving reason to believe he will be the first to go.
His Value To Us
My final issue with the idea of moving him, is the fact his true value might not be that great. People suggest this idea with either a prospect haul or a talented pitcher coming back in exchange. I’m not expecting too much if a deal comes to fruition, given the value of power. I recall the trade of J.D. Martinez when trying to evaluate his worth. Granted, he was an impending free agent, but still he did not yield a single top 100 prospect. The trade off of losing his bat in the lineup is pretty risky.
It’s just not simple to send José off to the AL. If there was just one contending team who really needed a DH, I wouldn’t have bothered writing this. I predict he will remain with the Cardinals for all of 2018.
Info taken from Fangraphs.com and assistance received from the talented Zach Gifford (@zjgifford). Thanks for reading!