Jose Martinez is a great hitter. He has batted over .300 the past two seasons, has some power, exhibits wonderful plate discipline, utilizes the whole field, and hits the ball hard. Yet, he’s being selected as the 225th overall player according to NFBC ADP since February 1, 2019. Screaming value or fool’s gold?
Martinez is a late bloomer, as he didn’t get his first taste of the majors until 2016, at the ripe age of 28 years old. Even then, he only played in 12 games and received 18 plate appearances. In 2017, Martinez played 106 games and garnered 307 plate appearances. He hit .309/.379/.518 with 14 home runs, stole 4 bases, scored 47 runs, and drove in 46. Last year was when he got a full complement of plate appearances (590), as he played 152 games. He hit .305/.364/.457 with 17 home runs, 64 runs scored, and 83 RBI. And therein lies the main issue for Martinez heading into the 2019 season: playing time.
The Cardinals acquired Paul Goldschmidt to play first base, a position where Martinez played 84 games last season. Outside of injury or the occasional day off for Goldschmidt (he’s played at least 155 games in four straight seasons), playing time at first base will be few and far between.
How about outfield, where he played 46 games? Well, he will most likely be battling Dexter Fowler for playing time in right field. And Fowler was absolutely dreadful last season. Granted, he only played 90 games due to injury, but when he was on the field, he produced a triple-slash of .180/,278/.298. Yuck. If you subscribe to the money talks adage, though, Fowler has three years left for a total of $43.5 million. And then there’s the defense part of the equation. Martinez was/is putrid at first base. In the outfield? Can you square putrid?
The projection systems have Fowler down for a bounce back year, and I’d imagine the Cardinals will want him to take hold of the position, as he’s a switch-hitter and has more speed to cover ground on defense. Say Martinez does win the job outright? That would obviously be a boon, but even in that scenario, he would likely be taken out of games for a defensive replacement.
The most optimistic scenario would be to get traded to an American League team, where he could be a DH. He’s only owed $2 million next year and has two arb years after that, so money would not be a prohibitive factor. BAL could use an upgrade, but are they trying to improve? BOS has J. D. Martinez and CHW has Jose Abreu. RosterResource.com currently has Hanley Ramirez for CLE, so that’s a possibility. DET has Niko Goodrum, but Miguel Cabrera will likely fill that role at some point. HOU has Tyler White. KC has….doesn’t matter, as Martinez would be an upgrade over all. LAA have Albert Pujols, MIN has Nelson Cruz, NYY have Giancarlo Stanton, and OAK has Khris Davis. SEA has Edwin Encarnacion/Daniel Vogelbach. TB has….who cares. He would slide right into the role and, with his team-friendly contract and control, I could see the Rays being a legitimate spot. He would likely get platooned, though. TEX has Shin-Soo Choo, while TOR has Kendrys Morales. So, KC, CLE, and TB would seem to be the likeliest teams to trade for him. Can you count on that happening, though?
At pick 225, the risk/reward seems favorable, especially when he has both first base and outfield eligibility. Let’s zoom in a little closer. Steamer has Martinez projected for 387 plate appearances and a .288/.350/.441 slash with 11 home runs, 2 stolen bases, 46 runs, and 48 RBI. Martinez is the 20th first baseman being selected. Right behind him is Jake Bauers, who Steamer has projected for 576 plate appearances, a .245/.339/.415 slash and 18 home runs with 15 stolen bases, 70 runs, and 70 RBI. He also has 1B/OF eligibility. Right below Bauers is Marwin Gonzalez, who Steamer has projected for 519 plate appearances, 16 home runs, 5 stolen bases, 60 runs, and 62 RBI. Gonzalez has 1B/2B/SS/OF eligibility. I’ll go down to the 31st first baseman, Yonder Alonso, who Steamer has projected for 590 plate appearances, 22 home runs, 1 stolen base, 67 runs, and 73 RBI.
The point is that while Martinez seems like a good value, there are players going after him that have less risk, a higher floor, and possible superior ceilings that Martinez.