With 2019 approaching and Opening Day to follow shortly thereafter, Jose Martinez’s role for the Cardinals still isn’t 100 percent clear. New additions and new faith in familiar faces have seemingly put him out of a starting spot. Martinez has been front and center in some trade conversations, but as of now he’s still a Redbird. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the Cards will have to find him a job.
Back-Up First Baseman
Adding Paul Goldschmidt has been and likely will be the Cardinals’ biggest move this offseason. He’s a dynamic 6-time All-Star MVP candidate who could be huge difference maker in the Birds lineup next season.
Unfortunately for Martinez, Goldy plays first base, and he plays it well. While Jose was fumbling around the bag trying to get his footwork down, Goldschmidt was winning Gold Gloves. Combine the defensive difference with the offensive production, and Martinez is far from getting the Opening Day start at first base. Both guys bat right handed too, so it’s not as if Martinez could platoon based on pitching match-ups either.
Eventually, though, Goldschmidt will need days off, and so will Carpenter. On those days, Martinez will be first in line for the start at first. He’s more than capable of making spot starts at first to give those guys a break.
Back-Up Right Fielder
Aside from first base, Jose also got quite a bit of time in right field last season. His defense was just as bad out there, but his bat still played over Fowler and O’Niell. Should the roster look the same for the first game as it does today, based on last year’s performance, Martinez would look like the frontrunner to get the start in right. The Cardinals don’t see it that way, though. They’ve openly announced again and again that they have complete confidence in Fowler.
That tells Martinez that his offensive output last year doesn’t really matter, because he’s not making enough money to play. He will still get some spot starts in right, though, much like at first. Also, if Fowler continues to struggle after the first month or so, it will leave the door open for Jose to take over the position.
Unless, of course, someone gets hurt; then right field will probably be where Martinez sees the bulk of his playing time. The Cards already have at least three other options at first base and Jose’s defense is less likely to cause problems in the outfield. There’s also a distinct possibility both that Fowler will have another terrible season, and that Martinez will end up splitting time with O’Niell out in right.
Pinch Hitter/Bench Bat/Designated Hitter
If Fowler does bounce back and no-one gets injured for a long period of time, Martinez’ biggest role will be off the bench. He has had a lot of success throughout his career when entering games as a substitute. In 71 such games, he’s hit .352 with a .960 OPS and a 126 tOPS+.
Jose and Gyorko will provide much needed pop off the Cardinals bench late in games. Martinez has been able to put together quality pinch hit at bats more often than not when he’s had the opportunity. In the National League a good pinch hitter can be a difference maker.
On the flip side of that, the Cardinals will play ten games in American League ballparks in 2019. Martinez could be very valuable as a designated hitter in those games. That’s really the perfect role for Jose, being that his defense is so bad. Unfortunately, those will be the only games he can actually DH. Nonetheless, they will be important games, and it’s nice to have a guy ready to fill that void when the time comes.
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