What Are The Cardinals Doing With Carlos Martinez?
And the mystery surrounding Carlos Martinez continues to deepen. Just one day after Martinez was publicly linked as part of a trade with the White Sox for Alexei Ramirez, the Cardinals sent the righthander to Memphis in order to call up Marc Rzepczynski.
What’s going on here?
Martinez began the season in AA Springfield as one of the most promising starters in a burgeoning Cardinal farm system. The Dominican flamethrower with the prized fastball – a starter throughout his career – was called to the major leagues on May 3rd to mend the hole in the bullpen created by the implosion of Mitchell Boggs. After just eight relief innings over four weeks, Martinez was sent to AAA Memphis on May 27th to, as we were told at the time, “stretch out in preparation for the starting rotation.”
Martinez did well at Memphis throughout June, posting a 1.98 ERA in eight starts (he was the Minor League Pitcher of the Month). Then, for some unknown reason, the Cardinals called Martinez back to the majors on July 11th and plopped him in the bullpen again. There he has sat for most of the last two weeks, pitching just 3.1 innings and giving up 3 runs in relief. During that time, reports surfaced that the Cardinals were dangling Martinez in a package to the White Sox for their starting shortstop (and perhaps more).
Now Martinez is on a bus for Memphis again.
The Cardinals have been dealing with Martinez with the same amount of thoughtful care that a three year-old has with an expensive laptop — twist it, smudge it up, and toss it around. Martinez consistently ranks among the most promising prospects in the minor leagues. If the Cardinals truly intend to build their future rotation around Martinez, their inconsistent, possibly damaging usage of him this season is perplexing to say the least.
What might be some reasons for their actions with Martinez?
1. The Cardinals intend to trade him. If, for whatever reason, the Cardinals suspect that Martinez isn’t as good as advertised, they might want to shop him now while he still has a perceived value (see also: Brett Wallace). There are certainly maturity issues involved with Martinez’s development, and he seems resistant to honing his secondary pitches. He also had arm trouble last year. These might be good reasons to trade him while his value is at its highest.
If this is the case, that might explain why Martinez was brought up mere weeks before the trade deadline when the team didn’t appear to really need a bullpen arm. If Mozeliak intended to showcase Martinez for the scouts in the stands, the plan backfired; Martinez looked atrocious in his July 19th appearance, coughing up 3 runs in 0.1 innings of relief. Overall, Martinez posted an ERA of 8.10 during that span and only struck out two batters. Not the best impression for potential buyers.
2. The Cardinals want to change his development. I suspect that the Cardinals would like to transform Martinez and his near-100 mph fastball into a late-inning reliever. I also suspect that Martinez wants the starting job. The rotation/bullpen juggling might be a way to test Martinez in various roles and see which one he handles best. I doubt this would be the case, though. It makes little sense to attempt this test at the major league level.
3. The Cardinals are disciplining him. I imagine that some of the rumors we’ve heard about Martinez and his maturity level are true. It’s difficult for any young player to suddenly be thrust into such a harsh spotlight; it’s probably much more difficult for a player who must also adjust to a new culture as well. From what I can tell, Martinez strikes me as a decent kid with the same kind of self-centered bravado found in most 21 year-old males. Who knows what I’d be like if I was a young, good-looking guy making great money while universally-praised as the next Pedro Martinez. If the Cardinals are indeed trying to humble the kid or force an adjustment, this is certainly a curious disciplinary course.
I believed that the Cardinals were serious about developing Martinez as a starter for this team’s eventual rotation, but I’m beginning to change my mind. Any team willing to carelessly juggle their best prospect between jobs, disrupt his conditioning program, and allow trade rumors to cloud his mind cannot have him as part of their future plans. As far as I’m concerned, the team has wasted most of Martinez’s summer on a bus or on a bullpen bench. They need to either get Martinez ready to support the rotation this fall and beyond, or they need to trade him. Any other course is detrimental to the player and the team.