Instead of preparing for an arbitration hearing, St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Carlos Martinez is celebrating a new contract.
Martinez, 25, who was 16-9 with a 3.04 ERA last season, came to terms on a five-year, $51-million contract extension. It’s the richest contract awarded to a pitcher who was arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career.
The deal includes club options for 2022 and 2023. It buys out what would have been Martinez’s first year of free agency in 2019.
“As we think about a contract like this, it’s really about trying to make an investment in our future, understanding that we see (Martinez) as an emerging star, someone that’s going to be an elite performer for a long time,” Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak said at Busch Stadium. “He’s a special young man. He’s growing up; he’s maturing.”
Martinez had been scheduled for an arbitration hearing next week. He was asking for $4.25 million; the Cardinals had offered $3.9 million. Both sides, however, always were interested in pursuing a long-term deal.
“This is something I’ve always dreamed of for myself and for my family since I was a little boy,” growing up in the Dominican Republic,” Martinez said through an interpreter. “Playing baseball has been my life, something I’ve always loved to do. I’m very thankful for this opportunity, thankful for the Cardinals.
“The five-year contract is going to be long enough to prove what I’m capable of.”
Martinez has taken over as the ace of the Cardinals’ rotation. In the last two seasons, he is 30-16 with a 3.02 ERA in 62 games, including 60 starts, with 358 strikeouts in 375 innings. Last season, he limited right-handed batters to a .207/.270/.269 slash line.
Martinez will be part of a rotation that will include Adam Wainwright, Alex Reyes, Lance Lynn and Mike Leake. Michael Wacha, Marco Gonzales and Luke Weaver also are expected to compete for a spot in spring training. Martinez is younger than Wainwright, Lynn, Leake and Wacha.
“When you look at our future, now knowing that Carlos Martinez can anchor this rotation for the next five years, feels and sounds pretty good to me,” said Mozeliak, also acknowledging how Martinez has grown up in the last couple of years. “He’s had great mentors. You think about Adam Wainwright and his influence on Carlos. You think about Yadier Molina and his influence on Carlos.
“These are critical things for him as he’s grown and continues to mature. I hope at some point, Carlos Martinez is a mentor to some of our young players coming in the future.”
Martinez desires to fill such a role.
“I believe I can be a leader for the Cardinals,” he said. “I grew up in a family that taught me that I need to respect everybody in my family. The Cardinals are like a family to me. Being able to help people like Alex Reyes and players that are coming up, and being a mentor to them, is really important.”
Martinez smiled when asked whether he would like to be the Opening Day pitcher April 2 when the Cardinals play host to the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs.
“I respect (Wainwright), but I want (Opening Day),” Martinez said.
While most people believe Martinez has even brighter days ahead, Mozeliak said the Cardinals already view him as an elite starter. The contract indicates that, too.
“He’s a potential No. 1 and a dominating-type starter,” Mozeliak said. “When you think about his performance over the last few years, there’s no reason not to think that’s where it’s headed. ... It’s certainly exciting knowing we have Carlos Martinez for the next five years, and ultimately, we have this young pitcher named Alex Reyes.
“I think the future bodes very well for us, especially from a rotation standpoint.”
Wacha is the lone Cardinal who is arbitration-eligible. Wacha is seeking $3.2 million, while the Cardinals have offered $2.775 million.