In a widely-circulated interview last week with USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, Cole Hamels went on record to say that he’s sort of over the Phillies and their “not winning in the near future” ways. Understandably, the 31-year old would prefer to pitch for a team that expects to be playing meaningful games in September. The Cardinals have been known to play meaningful games during that month and Hamels “loves” St. Louis, which is his wife’s hometown. Naturally, the Cardinals were one of the teams, likely along with the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Padres, to inquire with the Phillies’ much-maligned GM Rubén Amaro, Jr. about Hamels. Reportedly, Amaro wasn’t willing to deal with the Cardinals unless Carlos Martinez was a part of the package. The Cardinals weren’t willing to part with their young fireballer, and that seems to be the end of that.
Most Cardinals fans breathed a sigh of relief. Myself included. Which raises the question: Are we crazy?
For starters, Hamels is a certified ace and one of the most durable pitchers in baseball. From 2010 to 2014, of pitchers with at least 1,000 innings logged, only:
- Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander, James Shields, Clayton Kershaw, and David Price have pitched more innings (Hamels – 1,064.2);
- Kershaw, Hernandez, and Jered Weaver have a better ERA (Hamels – 3.00);
- Kershaw, Hernandez, Price, and Verlander have a better FIP (Hamels 3.27);
- Kershaw and Hernandez have a better ERA+ (Hamels – 129);
- Kershaw and Weaver have given up less earned runs (Hamels – 355).
Hamels has also been worth 27.8 bWar during that time. Equally enticing, he is under contract for another four years, plus a fifth-year option. This isn’t a one-year “rental” situation in which you have to cross your fingers and hope that once the contract expires Hamels will realize he can’t live without Imo’s Pizza. Trading for Hamels guarantees you several years of Hamels. (Also, this just in: Clayton Kershaw is good.)
Meanwhile, Carlos Martinez, entering his age-24 season, has pitched a total of 117.2 innings in his young career and has posted a 4.28 ERA, 3.15 FIP, and 1.411 WHIP. At best, he’s currently projected as a fifth starter this year. He throws hard and his presence on the mound borders between electric and reckless. As a starter in 2014, Martinez pitched 32.1 innings, and posted a 4.45 ERA and a gross 1.639 WHIP. He also had trouble pitching late into games.
So why does the organization (and most Cardinals fans) view Martinez as someone who is practically untouchable? This is why:
Martinez has a very high upside. You’d be hard-pressed to find a prognosticator who isn’t high on Martinez. Heading into the spring, reports are that he now has five quality pitches: four-seamer, two-seamer, curve, slider, and an improved changeup. Baseball Prospectus’ Harry Pavlidis believes Martinez has the best two-seam fastball (96 mph) on the Cardinals’ staff. Others laud his deadly slider. From Brooks Baseball: “His fourseam fastball is a real worm killer that generates an extreme number of groundballs compared to other pitchers’ fourseamers and is thrown at a speed that’s borderline unfair (98 mph) and has some natural sinking action.” From Baseball Prospectus 2015: “His stuff is filthy and at times unhittable, good enough to front a rotation…”
Command has been an issue. Last year he averaged 3.6 walks per nine innings in 89.1 total innings pitched. But if he can overcome that hurdle and figure out a way to grind out quality starts, he has the potential to be one of the best pitchers in baseball.
And there’s the rub – the prospect of watching Martinez blossom into an ace in St. Louis is too damn irresistible. Because of his stature, aforementioned potential, and name, Martinez has been called “Baby Pedro,” which the rational fan knows, at this point, is both unfair and unwarranted. There’s certainly nothing in Original Pedro’s early stats which are analogous to Carlos Martinez’s current development. But to the irrational fan – to guys like me – we secretly salivate at the very thought. Pedro? We could have our own Pedro?! DO NOT TRADE HIM.
If Hamels continues to be an above-average-to-excellent pitcher over the next couple of years – which seems likely – and Martinez flounders, I can honestly handle that. But if I have to watch Martinez hit his ceiling and actually live up to the Baby Pedro moniker in another uniform, well, that’s just too much to bear.
Martinez is young and being young is good. Martinez is on the right side of 30; Hamels is not. When Hamels’ current contract expires, pending the option, he’ll be 35 or 36. And never mind 30, Martinez is on the right side of 25 and won’t be eligible for arbitration until 2017. By the time Martinez reaches Hamels’s current age, you’ll be able to type in the coordinates of Busch Stadium in your Google Car and comfortably read the Banished to the Pen hardback quarterly as the machines safely escort you to the ballpark. Also, Julio Franco will be batting cleanup for a team on Mars.
Martinez has earned this opportunity. As Bernie Miklasz put it on the most recent Best Podcast in Baseball, Martinez has earned the opportunity to start for the team that’s been grooming him since 2010. The narrative during spring training 2014 was that Martinez was competing for the fifth starter spot with Joe Kelly. Well, he outperformed Kelly; he was widely considered more talented than Kelly; and he, of course, lost the job to Kelly. Without a clear role, he bounced around from setup guy, to Triple-A, to starter, and then back to the bullpen where he stayed throughout the postseason. The Cardinals spent this offseason bolstering that bullpen by adding Jordan Walden, Matt Belisle, and Carlos Villanueva, which has given them the freedom to transition Martinez to a starter. Whether this will be an opportunity to succeed or fail, we’ll find out, but it’s time to see what he can do.
Because what’s the rush? By the 2015 trade deadline, if Martinez has a couple months’ worth of starts under his belt the Cardinals should have a better understanding of his worth. If they’re bearish, perhaps it’ll be time to give Amaro another call. Maybe Hamels will no longer available, and to that I say so be it. When you factor in potential and age, holding onto Martinez is a risk worth taking.Next post: Why the Cardinals Are Foolish to Cling to Carlos Martinez in Cole Hamels Talks
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