photo: John Mozeliak and Carlos Martinez (St. Louis Cardinals)
The St. Louis Cardinals once again locked up a young cornerstone player at a reasonable price at the very start of his three arbitration years, a time during which salaries escalate considerably, and extended the new contract well into his potential free agent years.
In a widely-celebrated deal announced on February 2, ace Carlos Martinez avoided arbitration – for his first time and ever more. The right-hander agreed to a five-year, $51 million contract with additional club options covering his third and fourth free agent years in 2022 and 2023.
While the $51 million commitment set a new Major League record for a player in his first year of arbitration eligibility, Martinez had already established a track record of excellence that should make the contract a good one for the team for the next seven years.
In fact, the torch from prior ace Adam Wainwright passed to the now 26-year old long ago, as evidenced by Martinez having been named The Cardinal Nation’s St. Louis Starting Pitcher of the Year for each of the last three seasons.
To put this contract and ace-to-ace comparison into perspective, 2023 would be Martinez’ 10th full and 11th partial season with St. Louis – his age 31 campaign. At that point, his salary would be raised to its peak, but would still be “just” $18 million.
That is $1.5 million per season less than Wainwright made in base salary back in 2014 – nine years earlier. $19.5 million is also what Wainwright received in each of the three subsequent years, 2015-2017, with the same amount to head his way once again in 2018.
From 2018 through 2021, a period that includes his first two free agent years, Martinez will be paid a flat $11.5 million per season. Among the other better-compensated Cardinals are Dexter Fowler, Matt Carpenter and of course, the team’s highest-paid player, Yadier Molina.
Martinez has plenty to be thankful for, however. The deal offers considerable financial security up front to a player who had never made as much as $600,000 per year to that point. This contract continues a Cardinals pattern of long-term deals early in the careers of key young players over the years, including Albert Pujols, Wainwright, Molina, Allen Craig and Carpenter, plus more recently, Kolten Wong and since-traded Stephen Piscotty.
To be honest, I had expected Martinez would drive a harder bargain, as this looks to be a wise move for the Cardinals and their mound continuity for years into the future.
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