Ask BA: Is Carlos Martinez Going To Remain A Reliever?

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In a World Series that has seen one game end on an obstruction call and another end on a player being picked off of first base, I’m wondering what could be the weirdest way to top what’s already been a whacky World Series. Asking around the office here at Baseball America (yes, we get to talk about these kind of things and call it work) we came up with two options.

Option 1) One team bats out of order in the ninth inning, and the game ends when the other manager points out the mistake. Once we get back to Boston, the chances of this go way down once the double-switching options of the non-DH National League rules go away.

Option 2) With the bases loaded in the ninth inning of a tie game, catcher Yadier Molina gets called for catcher’s interference, thereby ending the game. I think we have a winner here. For one, it’s the unlikeliest of unlikely events. Mat Kovach at Hardball Times’ research back in 2011 showed that only one big league game in Retrosheet’s massive database of over 115,000 games ever ended on catcher’s interference—the Dodgers’ 5-4 win over the Reds on Aug. 1, 1971. And beyond that, the idea of Molina, one of the best all-around catchers of his generation, being called for it to end the game would take the unlikely to an entirely different realm of improbability. But then, Johnny Bench, one of the greatest catchers of all-time, was the catcher called for interference in 1971.

If you can think of a more improbable finish, please send it our way to askba@baseballamerica.com.

On to this week’s question.

Is Carlos Martinez’s success out of the bullpen this postseason helping or hurting his chances of making the Cardinals’ rotation next year? What about long-term? Does he still project to be a starter, or is this playoff run going to pigeonhole him as a reliever?

Matt Halvorson
Seattle

In a different organization, the answer to this question would be simple. Most organizations have a desperate need for young, inexpensive starting pitching. So a pitcher like Martinez, a hard-throwing righthander with the potential for two plus pitches, would have to prove he couldn’t start before he’d be relegated to the bullpen unless the team had a clear need for a closer.

Carlos Martinez

Carlos Martinez (Photo by Andrew Woolley)

The Cardinals seem pretty set at closer with rookie Trevor Rosenthal handling the job now and Jason Motte scheduled to return next year from Tommy John surgery. So if Martinez stays in the bullpen, he’s likely to get work as one of the hardest-throwing, most talented setup men in the game.

But at least for the next two years that seems likely. Barring a few trades, it’s simply hard to find a clear path for Martinez to get to the rotation. Just take a look at the absolute embarrassment of riches the Cardinals have when it comes to starting pitching options.

At the top of the rotation you have Adam Wainwright, who is signed through 2018 at $19.5 million per year. Wainwright, 31, has been one of the best starting pitchers in the National League when healthy.

Heading into spring training for next year, the Cardinals face the enviable problem of having five established starters battling for four spots. Righthanders Lance Lynn, Joe Kelly and Michael Wacha are all starting in the World Series this year. Righthander Shelby Miller went 15-9, 3.06 with a 119 ERA+ this year, which will likely place him high in the rookie of the year voting, but after tiring down the stretch, he’s thrown exactly one inning in the postseason. Lefthander Jaime Garcia, a league average or better starter from 2010-2012, is expected to be back to full strength after May shoulder surgery. If he’s healthy, he likely will have a spot in the rotation because he is the only lefty of the bunch.

That’s six starters who have had significant big league success as starters for five jobs. Beyond them, lefthander Tyler Lyons made eight starts this year as a rookie but will likely return to Triple-A Memphis to serve as rotation depth in 2014. If lefty John Gast (three starts) has recovered from the shoulder injury he suffered this year, he’s likely ticketed for the same role, as will be promising lefthander Tim Cooney (http://www.baseballamerica.com/minors/2013-texas-league-top-20-prospects-with-scouting-reports/ No. 12 on the Texas League Top 20 Prospects list). Cooney, a third-round pick out of Wake Forest in 2012, jumped from the New York-Penn League to the Double-A Texas League in his first full season, going 7-10, 3.80 with a sparkling 125-18 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 118 innings.

And a level behind them, lefthander Marco Gonzales, the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2013 out of Gonzaga, will likely be ready to start the season at Double-A Springfield after four excellent starts at high Class A Palm Beach to end the 2013 season.

That’s 10 viable starting pitching options. Of the 10, Wainwright is signed to a high-priced long-term deal, Garcia will be paid just under $8 million and Lynn will be entering his first year of arbitration. The other seven are have less than two years of big league service time and therefore won’t make much more than the league minimum.

The bullpen is equally talented and even more dominated by young, inexpensive arms. St. Louis has had an amazing amount of success of developing premium velocity, then turning some of the surplus into dominating relievers. Rosenthal is the club’s closer with a 100-mph fastball. Seth Maness was a starter until the moment the Cardinals brought him up to help the big league bullpen this past May. Once he arrived, his burrowing sinker and plus command made him a long-term asset for the bullpen. Lefthander Kevin Siegrest was moved to the bullpen this spring. He responded with a 3-1, 0.45 season in St. Louis. He allowed two runs in his first 17 outings, then didn’t allow another run, earned or unearned, in his final 28 appearances of the season. Lefty Sam Freeman, another 2013 rookie, will likely play a larger role in 2014 with his 95 mph fastball. That’s four 2013 rookies who should be joined by the return of Motte.

And then you have Martinez. There aren’t any reasons he couldn’t be an effective starter. Scouts have always worried about his small size (he’s 6-feet tall with a frame best described as wiry). There also have been some minor concerns about his command, and his changeup will have to improve. But it’s really more a case of a lack of opportunity that could keep him in the bullpen. As one of the youngest pitchers in the Pacific Coast League, Martinez went 5-3, 2.51 with Triple-A Memphis as a starter between trips to help out the big league bullpen.

If you want to see Martinez as a starter, you’ll likely need to be patient. The Cardinals did let Wainwright work a full season as a reliever before they moved him into their rotation. In Martinez’s case, he could spend all of next year apprenticing as a power reliever, albeit one who could work longer stints than the average setup man. Then maybe by 2015, trades or injuries could clear a path to the rotation.