The St. Louis Cardinals have a long tradition of outstanding starting pitching. It extends all the way back to the inception of the franchise and has continued to present day.
This tradition is highlighted by names such as Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang teams of the 1930’s, Bob Gibson – the greatest postseason pitcher of all time, John Tudor – the best Cardinals pitcher of a golden era, and Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright.
Without fail, every single time one Cardinal ace begins to slip down the aging curve and lose his touch, the torch is passed onto a younger pitcher to become the ace of the staff. Most recently, when Chris Carpenter was in the twilight of his career he passed the metaphorical torch on to Adam Wainwright after the 2011 season, symbolizing the franchise’s full commitment to Waino as the ace of the staff.
Adam Wainwright is now 35 years old and coming off a 2016 season in which he posted career highs in ERA and FIP (4.62 and 3.93) while posting a career low in strikeouts. Not to really emphasize his age because Waino could come back and have a tremendous season in 2017, but at 35 years old, it’s hard to realistically see Wainwright re-discovering his peak form that lasted from 2009-2014.
And what a peak form it was, might I add.
But, getting back to the point, Wainwright’s time as the ace of the Cardinal staff is coming to a close. We are in the twilight years of his time holding the metaphorical torch, and it’s time to pass it on. It’s time for the Cardinals to designate a new torch-bearer.
And I can’t think of a better player to both fulfill this metaphor and become the next Cardinal ace than 25-year-old fireballer, Carlos Martinez.
In 2016, his second year on full-time starting pitcher duty, Martinez threw a career high 195.1 innings, while posting an ERA of 3.04, xFIP of 3.28, and a new career high in bWAR at 5.4.
Now, Martinez is entering his first year of arbitration this offseason, and will be predictably due a fairly hefty sum due to his excellent performance as a starter over these past two seasons. But, the Cardinals shouldn’t even allow him to reach arbitration and sign him to an extension as soon as possible, cutting all of the deadlock and riffraff that comes with arbitration hearings and negotiations.
In signing Martinez to an extension, the Cardinals are pushing all of their chips to the middle of the table and betting on El Gallo, thus passing the torch on to him from Adam Wainwright.
Before we get into what a Martinez extension would potentially look like, I want to quickly review why Martinez deserves this extension and the moniker of ‘Cardinal Ace’.
Taking a quick glance at his first two seasons, it’s a very impressive performance from a young pitcher, but it isn’t quite what you want to see from a guy that you’re gambling the franchise on. The numbers are good, but they don’t necessarily scream ‘ACE’.
Over his first two seasons as a starter, Martinez has posted a cumulative ERA of 3.02, FIP of 3.36, K/9 of 8.5, bWAR of 9.5 and 87 RAR – this is a stat that is like WAR, but measures how many runs above replacement level a pitcher is.
Among starters during that span, Martinez ranks 9th in all of baseball in bWAR, is tied for 10th in ERA, 21st in FIP, 20th in xFIP and 21st in K/9. So, judging solely off of these numbers, Carlos Martinez is a good pitcher who is teetering on the verge of becoming elite.
And, might I remind you, he is entering his age 25 season.
But, the most interesting thing about Martinez’s peripherals so far that points towards him really taking the reigns as the ace of the St. Louis staff came when I compared his career numbers to those of incumbent Cardinal ace, Adam Wainwright.
Like Martinez, Wainwright began his career as a reliever, exceeding his rookie limits during the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series run as the closer. Like Martinez, Wainwright spent the first two seasons of his career as a very good reliever for the Cardinals, having a cumulative FIP during his 2005 and 2006 seasons as a reliever of 2.91. And, like Martinez, Wainwright then transitioned into a starting pitcher role, having mild success.
During his first two years as a starter, Wainwright posted an ERA+ of 119 in 2007 and 132 in 2008. During his first two years as a starter, Martinez posted an ERA+ of 130 in 2015 and 135 in 2016.
Anyone else starting to see this parallel?
Wainwright then exploded into his prime years during the 2009 season, during which he posted a 2.63 ERA, 9.2 K/9, 155 ERA+ and 7.2 bWAR in 233 innings. Wainwright’s respective ERA+’s over the 4 seasons during which he was a starter after 2008: 155, 160, 147 and 153.
Again, Carlos Martinez is 25 years old, his career nearly mirrors Adam Wainwright’s, and Martinez’s first two seasons as a starter were better than Wainwright’s. Do you see why this gets me excited, now?
But, the question of this article was not, ‘Should Carlos Martinez get an extension?’
The question of this article was, ‘What would a Carlos Martinez extension look like?’
The crux of figuring out what a potential Carlos Martinez extensions will look like is all based off of Martinez’s projected WAR, and the market value for a win. Currently, market dollar value for one win is $8.0 million. Meaning that a player with 1.0 WAR would be worth – in a perfect world – $8 million.
Trying to project out Martinez’s WAR in the future can be a tricky exercise because, first off, his 2017 projections have not been released yet. Alas, trying to figure out how much Carlos Martinez will be worth through future seasons is very rough around the edges.
So what I did do is take an unofficial Fangraphs aging chart for pitchers and attempt to make Martinez’s career mirror this graph as closely as possible while adding on a 5% inflation to the market dollar value of a win every year.
So, roughly judging this graph, the total WAR for pitchers in their age 24 season – which Martinez was during 2016 – was 850. That number then roughly jumped to 1,000 during the age 25 season, 117.6% increase.
Applying this same math to Martinez bWAR, his 2017 value will be 6.35 WAR according to Ryan’s rough projections. If we also take into account the Adam Wainwright career trajectory that Martinez appears to be mirroring, this 6.3 WAR appears even more reasonable, as Wainwright posted a 6.2 WAR in his 3rd season as a starter.
Now, going back to the graph, the jump in collective WAR from age 25 seasons to age 26 seasons is approximately 107.5% – roughly 1,000 WAR to roughly 1,075 WAR. Increasing Martinez’s Ryan projected 2017 bWAR of 6.35 by 107.5% yields a Ryan-projected 2018 bWAR of 6.82.
As we can see in the graph above, the bWAR line peaks at the age-26 season and then begins to decline down towards zero. From age-26 to age-27, the decline is approximately 3.3%. From age-27 to age-28, the decline is approximately 6.8%. The age-28 to age-29 decline is approximately 15.5%, and the age-29 to age-30 decline is approximately 8.6%.
I’m stopping at the age-30 season on this graph because my ideal extension length for Carlos Martinez – both for team and player – is 6 years. This would buy out all three of his arbitration years as well as three free agent years while paying him during his prime years, thus maximizing his value.
So, applying this unofficial pitcher age chart graph thing as well as my super unofficial percentages, Carlos Martinez’s Ryan-projected WAR during the 6 potential seasons of this extension would be as follows.
Overall, during the 6 years on this potential extension, Martinez would deliver – according to my extremely rough projections – a total of 36.06 WAR. That is absolutely astounding value.
So, how would this look when calculating Martinez’s Ryan-projected WAR in combination with the dollar market value for a win?
As I mentioned earlier, the current market value for one win is $8 million. For the sake of this exercise, I will add on a 5% inflation to that $8 million number every year. Martinez’s value comes out as follows.
So, according to the market value for wins and my rough projections, the Cardinals should offer Carlos Martinez a 6 year extension somewhere in the range of $320 million to match his value.
Is that realistic? Absolutely not. As much as I love Martinez, $320 million over 6 years is insane and should not even be considered by the Cardinals.
Market value is absolutely outrageous these days, and I knew that this exercise would yield an incredibly high answer to the question, “What is Carlos Martinez’s projected value?” So how do we try to figure out what his potential extension should look like?
Martinez is a unique case. He is a pitcher that has hit arbitration at the ripe age of 25, having two full and very productive seasons of being a starting pitcher under his belt. At 25, it’s both reasonable and viable to expect his value to only increase over the next few years as he ages into his peak years.
Right now, his value is high enough to reasonably warrant a pricy extension on its own, but when you consider that he should only get better? His value only increases. Thus, it’s basically impossible to find another player in the history of baseball that was in this situation and then compare the contract that nonexistent player signed and point to that as the blueprint for what Martinez should be extended for.
So bear with me here because this could be a bit of a stretch, but I have found a player that seems comparable to Martinez in the New York Yankees’ Masahiro Tanaka.
When signed in the winter of 2014, Tanaka was entering his age 25 season, like Martinez. The only difference between the two is that Tanaka had been pitching in the Japanese professional league since his age-18 season in 2007, giving him a much longer track record.
Anyway, the contract that the Yankees signed Tanaka to was a 7 year, $155 million deal; an average annual value of $22 million complete with a full no trade clause and an opt-out after the 2017 season.
Applying this AAV down to the ideal 6 year extension that I have in mind for Martinez, the potential extension total comes to 6 years and $132 million. And let’s throw the full no-trade clause and opt-out after the 4th year into the deal as well just for the sake of mirroring Tanaka’s deal.
To the naked eye, this seems a bit steep to pay Martinez. But when you project out his value, he could – according to my numbers – out-perform the value of this contract by nearly $200 million. So you tell me if it’s a good or bad deal.
Personally, I really like the framework of a 6 year, $132 million extension with full no-trade and an opt out. I believe this deal checks all of the boxes.
Fully committing to Martinez as the future ace? Check, this would be the biggest deal in Cardinals history both from an AAV and total dollar value standpoint.
Allowing Martinez stability and some control? Check, the full no-trade guarantees that he’ll be in St. Louis for the duration of the deal while the opt-out gives him the option of going back onto the free agent market after his age-28 season in 2020.
Not over-committing with too many years? Check, the 6 years all come during the supposed prime of Martinez’s career, which maximizes his value while not paying him too much during the downturn that his early to mid-30’s could potentially be.
All of these numbers are extremely raw and very rough around the edges so please don’t take them as fact or guarantee, but this has still been a worthwhile exercise in attempting to define and project Carlos Martinez’s value going forward.
Both sides are supposedly interested in an extension, the entirety of the Cardinal fan base is interested in an extension, so what’s not to love?
Go make it happen, Mo.