We hear all the time that when it comes to baseball contracts $30 million is the new $20 million. Just last winter we saw free agent starters David Price and Zack Greinke both sign contracts for an average of over $30 million per year. Cardinals pitcher Carlos Martinez will now make less than half of that every season before he even turns 30. Price and Greinke should have good years on their current deals but on some level their teams are paying for past performance. It makes far more sense for teams to sign players to big contracts before they hit free agency, and while they still have their prime years ahead of them. This was the thought process of the Red Sox when they signed Rick Porcello to a four year, $82.5 million deal a year before he was set to hit the open market. That deal is perceived as good value for Boston, which means Carlos Martinez's five year, $51 million extension could prove to be highway robbery for the Cardinals.
Martinez came up to the bigs in 2013 but was transitioning between starting and relieving until 2015. In his first full season as a starter that year C-Mart became an all star en route to finishing 10th among National League pitchers in WAR, ERA, and strikeouts per nine. Although he wasn't an all star this past season he took another step forward and led the Cardinals in wins, ERA, and strikeouts. He finished the year with a record of 16-9, a 3.04 ERA, and 174 strikeouts. Due to Adam Wainwright's experience and leadership he may still be considered the "ace" of the St. Louis rotation but Martinez has become the staff's best pitcher.
For years the Cardinals were considered baseball's version of the Spurs or Patriots. While these organizations may not win it all every year, they are always in the conversation come season's end. In a 11 year stretch from 2004 through 2014 the team made the NLCS a whopping seven times, including four pennants and two World Series championships. 2016 turned out to be a major kick in the nuts for St. Louis. They had to watch their arch rival Cubs win their first of what could be several championships in the near future. They also lost draft picks from the 2015 hacking scandal. However, as evidenced by the Spurs and Patriots great franchises weather the storm as opposed to hitting the full reset button. The first step to building the next great Cardinals team is signing a 25-year-old potential superstar pitcher to a highly affordable, team friendly extension.