As the MLB offseason rolls on, free agency and trade talks start to heat up.
Although he is not the first big-name Right Fielder that comes to mind (cough, cough, Giancarlo), The Cardinals should target J.D. Martinez in the coming weeks.
Martinez’s Monster 2017 Season
J.D. Martinez is coming off an absolutely incredible season in which he hit 45 home runs. This was good for third most in the MLB, even though he only played in 119 games. In 2017, Martinez had the highest home run rate in the MLB out of all hitters with at least 450 plate appearances: one homer every 9.6 at bats. If he had as many at-bats as Stanton, Martinez would have been on pace to hit 62 homers. Martinez’s slugging percentage of .690 was the highest in the MLB by almost 60 points and he trailed only Mike Trout in OPS among players with 450 plate appearances.
While it might be hard to expect Martinez to put up numbers as impressive as he did last year, his performance was certainly no fluke. Since 2014, Martinez has the 10th most homers and the second highest slugging percentage, once again only trailing the best player in the world: Mike Trout.
And Martinez doesn’t just hit homers. Since 2014, he has posted a .300 batting average to go along with a solid .362 OBP. Over these four seasons, Martinez has shown remarkable consistency, posting an average of at least .282, an OBP of at least .344, and an OPS of at least .879 every year.
Advanced Numbers Don’t Lie
Martinez’s stats are also backed up by advanced metrics. Over the past few years, Martinez has played in two of the more hitter-friendly parks in the MLB: Comerica Park and Chase Field. However, advanced stats that take into account these park factors make it clear that Martinez is one of the best hitters in the MLB regardless of where he plays.
In 2017, Martinez had an OPS+ of 166, 4th highest in the majors among players with at least 450 plate appearances. This means that Martinez had an OPS almost 70% better than league average even after adjusting for the fact that he played in very hitter-friendly parks. Since 2014, Martinez is 5th among qualified hitters in Weighted Runs Created+ (WRC+) behind players like Trout and Bryce Harper.
A Middling Offense in Need of a Power Bat
In 2017, the Cardinals had a very average offense with little power. As a team, the Cardinals finished 13th in the MLB in runs, 12th in OPS, and 18th in home runs. And this lack of an explosive offensive wasn’t just a problem last season. Over the past five seasons, the Cardinals rank 10th, 11th, and 23rd in these same three offensive categories.
Additionally, Cardinals’ right fielders combined to hit only .250 with a .764 OPS in the past season. Martinez would be an instant boost to a Cards’ offense that had no single player hit more than 25 home runs in 2017 and has not had a top power hitter since Albert Pujols left the team.
The Contract is Worth It
Recent reports have suggested that Martinez is looking for a long-term deal worth around $200 million. While this would clearly be a big risk for the Cards to take, he may be the best option available. Martinez is more affordable than Stanton, and he is still in his prime at 30-years-old. Martinez’ consistency over the last four seasons would make the move less of a gamble.
The Cardinals’ offense has been average at best over the last several years, and adding a power bat like Martinez would instantly improve the offense. Not only has Martinez been one of the best power hitters in the MLB over the past several years, but he has also hit for a very high average and has been incredibly consistent.
The Cardinals need a true power hitter in the middle of their lineup and shouldn’t let money get in the way. If the Cardinals add Martinez to a lineup with up-and-coming stars such as Paul DeJong and Tommy Pham and proven veterans like Matt Carpenter and Yadier Molina, the Cards could make a push for the NL Central in 2018 and for years to come.
Stats Courtesy of FanGraphs, Baseball-Reference, and ESPN.com
Photo Captured by USA Today Sports- Mark J. Rebilas