It is no secret that the Mariners are now looking ahead to 2020 or 2021. The Mariners have already traded starting pitcher James Paxton to the New York Yankees for LHP Justus Sheffield, RHP Erik Swanson and OF Dom Thompson-Williams. If trading Paxton could net that haul, the question must be asked, What could the Mariners get for closer Edwin Diaz?
Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto has said he doesn’t want to deal players like Diaz, Mitch Haniger and Marco Gonzales, but in Major League Baseball, there is no such thing as untradeable players. If the Mariners really are retooling for a run in 2020-2021, the last thing the team needs is a closer with the upside of Edwin Diaz. Diaz’ value may never be higher. He is just 24 years old, and under club control until 2023. He is coming off of one of the best closing seasons in Major League history with 57 saves. The time to move him is now.
If/when Dipoto makes it known to the rest of the league that Diaz will be available, he will be overwhelmed with trade offers from just about every team in contention in 2019. The St. Louis Cardinals could be a perfect fit to land Diaz. The Cardinals missed the playoffs in 2018 for the third straight season and fired Skipper Mike Matheny midway into the 2018 campaign. The glaring issue for the 2018 Cardinals? Bullpen issues.
The Cardinals used a combination of Bud Norris, Greg Holland, and Jordan Hicks to close out games for them in 2018. Holland was a colossal bust for them, while Norris and Hicks did not do enough down the stretch. Holland had a 7.92 ERA over 25 innings, walking 22 batters. Norris did record 28 saves but was shaky in doing so. Hicks has problems throwing strikes consistently. The Cardinals could be a great closer away from the postseason play in 2019.
The Cardinals have a very good farm system, especially on the pitching side. Top prospects Luke Weaver, Jack Flaherty, Dakota Hudson, and Alex Reyes all pitched in the big leagues in 2018. For realistic purposes, the 4 names listed above will not be considered in an Edwin Diaz trade scenario. Also, OF Tyler O’Neill and 3B Nolan Gorman will not be considered as well.
With that being said, here is our proposal:
Carlos Martinez is 27 years old and under club control until 2022. He signed a 5 year, $51 million dollar contract extension with the Cardinals in 2017. He also has club options in 2022 and 2023. Martinez battled through some injuries in 2018, and was used out of the bullpen to end out the season. An All-Star in 2015 and 2017, he is a great starter and could become the staff ace. The blemish on him is his inconsistency to throw strikes, as he walked 60 batters in just 118.1 innings last season.
Perhaps a change of scenery would help Martinez. He dealt with an oblique strain last season, so fans shouldn’t be worried about his arm/shoulder. His injury and walk rate led him to finish out the season in the bullpen, with some experts believing he could be the odd man out in the Cardinals rotation in 2019. He pitched well as a reliever and even saved 5 games for the Cards. Should he be dealt with the Mariners, Martinez would surely be a starting pitcher going forward.
The other player being brought to Seattle is catcher Carson Kelly. Kelly is just 24 years old and has 6 years of club control remaining. Kelly is thought to be the successor to Yadier Molina, but with the year Molina had, Kelly could become expendable with the Cards #5 prospect Andrew Knizner waiting in the wings. The Mariners will have to fill the void left when they traded Mike Zunino to the Rays.
Kelly has played sparingly in the majors for parts of 3 seasons. His numbers are brutal over that time, with a slash line of just .154/.227/.188. But in the minors last season, where he was an everyday player, his slash line was .269/.378/.395. His plate vision was outstanding, as he walked 48 times while only striking out 48 times in 349 plate appearances. He is a good catcher and has had only 1 error in 298 Major League Innings. He has a career 31% caught stealing percentage compared to the Major League average of 27%.
The Cardinals have a chance to trade from their immense depth at starting pitching and at catcher to land arguably the best closer in baseball. Cardinals fans will miss Martinez more like the person, rather than the player. Alex Reyes should be healthy for the 2019 season. Luke Weaver, Miles Mikolas, Michael Wacha and Jack Flaherty make a very good rotation. I believe this would be a win-win for both teams.
As always, Go Mariners!