Spring Training Job Battles: Cardinals 5th Starter
Martinez was thought to have the inside track going in but he was losing ground before Garcia had a setback in his troublesome shoulder. It now appears Martinez or Gonzales will start the year in the rotation until Garcia can get healthy, which could be never.
Martinez and his upper-90s fastball have been relegated mostly to the bullpen the past two seasons with mixed results. In eight career starts, Martinez has pitched to just a 4.45 ERA with a 34-16 K-BB in 32.1 IP while he has fared better in relief with a 3.79 ERA and a 50-20 K-BB in 57 IP. The big problem is that he doesn’t have a pitch to get lefties out, giving up a .839 OPS and .363 wOBA against lefties compared to a .609 OPS and .275 wOBA against righties. Facing lefties, his whiff rates plummet on his two- and four-seam fastballs while he can’t find the strike zone with any of his pitches except the slider. He is so good against righties that he could still be a serviceable starter, but without an adjustment he may be better suited to a bullpen role.
Gonzales raced through the minors after being taken in the first round in 2013 out of Gonzaga. The lefty posted a combined 2.48 ERA in just 29 games (27 starts) in the minors before struggling out of the gate in the majors. He was hammered for 14 hits and 10 runs with a 5-6 K-BB in 9.1 innings in his first two starts, but bounced back to allow just 18 hits and 6 runs with a 26-15 K-BB in 25.1 IP in his last eight appearances with the Cardinals. His future should be in the rotation, but it seems like an easy way for the Cardinals to limit their innings by sticking him in the bullpen until a need arises in the rotation. The Cardinals’ No. 1 prospect should eventually settle in as a mid-rotation starter, but is better left for deep NL-only and keeper leagues for now.
Garcia is returning from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery on the heels of chronic shoulder issues that have helped limit the lefty to just a combined 36 starts with St. Louis in the past three seasons. Garcia is making $9.25 million in the final season of a four-year, $27M deal, but the Cardinals hold options for $11.5M and $12M in the next two seasons if they so choose. When he’s right, Garcia has the much-desired combination of strikeouts, control and ground-ball tendencies. Last season his strikeout rate soared to a career-high 8.0 K/9 while his walk rate dropped to a career-best 1.4 BB/9 and his ground-ball rate sat at its usual 55.1%. Home runs have been a problem for Garcia the past two seasons, so when his HR/FB rates are normalized his xFIPs of 2.94 and 3.27 are indicators of ability.
We’re definitely fans of Martinez’s long-term ceiling and acknowledge that there’s a chance for a breakout, but it may be more prudent to have him continue working on ways to get lefties out in the bullpen and use Garcia while he’s healthy. I took Garcia in what amounts to the 34th round of a 12-team mixed keeper league while Martinez went in the 24th round and Gonzales in the 31st. I like all three values as ceiling plays, but am even more excited about the rock-bottom cost on Garcia despite the likelihood that he won’t make it through the season healthy.
In shallower leagues, keep a close eye on this situation and grab whoever emerges from this job battle. Martinez and Gonzales would even make nice stashes for when Garcia’s arm problems flare up.