This column needs an early disclaimer, so here it is: I’m not advocating for the following idea, but it’s interesting to consider.
OK, that said, what if the Cardinals traded Carlos Martinez?
At the end of this season, he will be 27 years old, smackdab in the middle of his prime. He’ll have three guaranteed years left on his contract and be paid $11.5 million per season. In today’s market, that’s a steal. Plus, his contract includes two club option years – one for $17 million and the other for $18 million.
Martinez, who has perennially been one of the best 20 starting pitchers in baseball, is under team control until just after his 32nd birthday. That’s value unlike any other on the trade market.
Teams are willing to spend beaucoup bucks on unproven commodities that are under team control. Countless prospects have been traded as centerpieces of major deals, and it continues to be an imperfect science.
There’s simply no guarantee any single prospect becomes a star. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to assume any prospect will become as good as Martinez already is. There are very few – think less than five – starting pitchers that combine Martinez’s stellar track record, youthful age and reasonable contract.
It could easily be argued that he’s one of the most desirable players in the league. While he’s not as good as the league’s top pitchers, most of them carry astronomical contracts. Plus, there simply aren’t that many pitchers with Martinez’s pedigree that haven’t yet turned 27.
Of course, there are the naysayers who argue that Martinez is inconsistent or immature. While it’s obviously true that Martinez isn’t perfect, the empirical evidence says otherwise.
Assuming each of the other 29 teams would be interested in Martinez, what could the Cardinals get for him?
Normally, these types of trades involve high-level prospects. There’s no doubt the Cardinals could rack up any number of top prospects for Martinez. Heck, some of the best teams in the league are considering trading at least one top minor leaguer for half a season of Manny Machado as we speak.
Considering the Cardinals' current situation, it could make sense that the team would want useful major leaguers for Martinez. In theory, the Cards could bolster their entire roster at the cost of their best pitcher. Would it be worthwhile? Maybe, maybe not.
There aren’t many good comparisons for such a trade. Steve Carlton forced his way out of St. Louis in 1972, and the Expos were forced to trade Pedro Martinez in 1997 because they weren’t going to be able to afford him a year later.
One thing’s for sure — the Cardinals would be inundated with high-end offers from across the league. A couple of the strongest offers could come from division rivals. The Cubs and Brewers would both surely love to take Martinez off St. Louis’ hands.
The big-money clubs would make strong pushes, but Martinez’s cost certainty would allow small-market teams to make a push, too.
It won’t happen. I’m pretty sure I don’t think it should happen. Still, it’s an interesting conversation.
JEFF WILSON can be reached at email@example.com.