By Rob Rains
LAS VEGAS – The Cardinals’ pursuit of a left-handed reliever has led to trade discussions involving Jose Martinez, who lost his chance to play first base with the trade for Paul Goldschmidt and appears headed to losing playing time in right field to Dexter Fowler.
Would this be a good move?
The answer is possibly, but also possibly not, depending on two important factors – who would be the reliever acquired in such a trade, and can Fowler really be the bounce-back candidate the Cardinals management believes he can be in 2019?
Led by president of baseball operations John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ front office, and manager Mike Shildt, have done an admirable job at the winter meetings this week of saying how confident they are that Fowler will be better next year and how committed they are to him being the starting right fielder.
“He’s having a productive offseason,” Shildt said Wednesday. “He’s healed (from last year’s broken foot) and he’s back to baseball activity. And he understands and has personal pride in wanting to rebound and become the player that he’s shown and more than capable of and historically has proven to be … we both get the fact that we have a responsibility to the greater good of the team. And he gets that.”
In reality, the only other choice the Cardinals had other than committing to Fowler would have been to release him, and eat the $50 million left on his contract, and the team doesn’t have the stomach at the moment to do that.
That has led to the trade discussions about Martinez, whose value to another club, especially an American League team, could be higher than it would be as a fourth outfielder and pinch-hitter for the Cardinals.
“We’ve talked to a lot of teams about the things we’ve said we are looking for,” general manager Michael Girsch said on Wednesday. “Jose is a guy we’ve talked about, seeing what the market looks like.
“He’s a really good hitter who is under control for a while and that’s the kind of guy who has a big market. It’s why we’re excited to have him with us. He’s an offensive player that the way the game is going guys who hit .300 and make good contact, they are valuable players.”
Girsch said the discussions about whether to trade Martinez have to factor in the return, and whether that player could potentially be more important to the Cardinals.
“It’s the same risk as not having what you would get for Jose in a deal,” Girsch said. “It’s trying to figure out what’s the best fit given the options.”
Martinez does have some defensive liabilities, but his solid offense might make teams overlook that, especially if they can get him out of the game in the late innings.
What could be a positive of trading Martinez for a left-handed reliever is it might close out the possibility of the Cardinals making a free agent signing of either Zach Britton or Andrew Miller, a move which would have all of the possibilities of following the mistakes of signing Brett Cecil and Luke Gregerson.
It appears the Cardinals are poised to take whichever path opens first, a free-agent signing or making a trade, and have active discussions going on simultaneously on both fronts.
“We’re trying to find out what the actual acquisition cost in both markets are. If we see an opportunity we’ll take it,” Girsch said. “Until you get a good feel for the different approaches, player costs or cash, we’re still in the ‘trying to figure out where we are’ stage.”
As of Wednesday, Martinez was still on the Cardinals and Shildt talked about the positives of that situation, even though he knows it could change with one phone call.
“I’m happy Jose is with us,” Shildt said. “I’m happy with what he brings to us on a lot of levels.”
Added Girsch, “Jose is a great hitter,” Girsch said. “His fit is not perfect. It’s why we keep talking about it. But it doesn’t mean he doesn’t check a lot of other boxes.”
The other factor which affects Martinez’s future in St. Louis is the presence of Tyler O’Neill, who will be fighting for playing time in the majors next season, especially if he shows he can maintain hitting for power while also cutting down on his strikeouts through work with new hitting coach Jeff Albert.
Among tidbits shared by Shildt during his media session on Wednesday was that Fowler, who lives in Las Vegas, was scheduled to host a dinner party at his house for the Cardinals’ front office contingent. Shildt already was scheduled to fly back to St. Louis Wednesday night so he was unable to attend.
Other news and notes from Wednesday, the final full day of the winter meetings:
* Shildt liked the addition of Drew Robinson, acquired on Tuesday from the Texas Rangers for Patrick Wisdom. He managed against Robinson in both Double A and Triple A.
“Impressed with his skill set, the way he played the game, the versatility, a left-handed bat that we feel like is a complement to some things we’re trying to accomplish,” Shildt said.
Shildt even cracked a joke, noting “he’s actually from Las Vegas, the 26-year-old left-handed batter from Las Vegas, which is big news (referring to the other 26-year-old left-handed hitter from Las Vegas on the market, Bryce Harper).”
* Shildt had a phone conversation with Alex Reyes on Tuesday and reported that the pitcher’s rehab work in south Florida is going well.
“All the strength and everything is positive and favorable,” Shildt said. “He’s going in the right direction on schedule. I don’t want to get too far ahead of the role, because the first thing is getting back to health and making sure he’s in a position where he can perform. We get Alex Reyes back to that, I’m confident there’s not a role he couldn’t work within.
“The good news about Alex, he could start, he’s got the arsenal, he’s got the stuff. You could use him in the middle as a weapon to go multiple innings, or at the end of the game to knock it down. Good news is he’s doing well, he’s healthy to this point. And he’s having a positive offseason, and we’ll look forward to getting him back on the field and being a weapon for us.”
* The Cardinals have a full 40-man roster, so they will not be able to make any selections in the Rule 5 draft on Thursday but they could lose some players. Among the prospects the team chose not to protect, making them eligible for selection, are infielder Max Schrock and right-handed pitcher Junior Fernandez.
There also is a minor-league portion of the draft where the Cardinals can make selections if they so choose.
* Former Cardinals pitcher Lance Lynn, who did not sign last winter until the middle of spring training, reportedly agreed to a three-deal with the Texas Rangers.
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains