Why Nick Martinez’s Opt-Out Decision is a Close Call

When the 2021-22 offseason started, Nick Martinez wasn’t even on the radar for many MLB followers. The right-hander had stumbled by an uninspiring four-year run with the Rangers from 2014-17, and whereas a huge exhibiting in Japan put him again on the radar of MLB golf equipment, it was nonetheless a shock to see him signal the 14th- largest contract of any pitcher final offseason. Martinez not solely secured an eye-opening four-year time period and $25.5MM assure from the Padres — he was additionally promised the chance to choose out of his contract after every season of the deal.

It’s an upside-laden contract for the participant. Annual opt-outs of that nature are inclined to go to coveted free brokers settling for shorter-term offers than they could in any other case choose (eg Carlos Correa in Minnesota). It’s not a wholly new idea — Scott Kazmir acquired that remedy from the Dodgers way back to 2015 when signing his three-year, $48MM deal — and it is one which Padres president of baseball ops has now used to lure in a pair of gamers he performed a position in signing and growing throughout his time with Texas; Prof. Jurickson‘s three-year, $21MM contract additionally contained an opt-out after every of the primary two seasons.

Martinez’s four-year deal pays him a $2MM signing bonus and a $4MM wage in 2022. All three of his participant choices are valued at $6.5MM, and he’d obtain a $1.5MM buyout if he determined to show an choice down and check free company. In different phrases, Martinez’s upcoming choice is successfully a internet $18MM determination. The signing bonus, 2022 wage and choice buyout are all however banked. The query for him is considered one of whether or not he can prime $18MM in free company this winter.

It’s truthful to query whether or not that may be referred to as a given. On the floor, Martinez’s 3.22 ERA in 100 1/3 innings must be thought-about a roaring success. He entered the 2022 season with a profession 4.77 ERA in 415 1/3 innings, all coming in that earlier run with the Rangers — one which concluded with consecutive ERAs north of 5.50.

At the identical time, Martinez hasn’t precisely dominated opponents. His 20.9% strikeout price is under the 22.3% league common, whereas his 8.6% stroll price is ever so barely larger than the 8.2% league common. Martinez induces grounders at an above-average clip (46.7% in comparison with 42.2%) but in addition surrenders residence runs extra steadily than the common pitcher (1.25 HR/9 in comparison with 1.10 HR/9).

The position — or reasonably, the roles — that Martinez has crammed this yr do not essentially assist his trigger, both. He opened the yr because the Padres’ fifth starter however was a part of a six-man rotation by May and was moved to the bullpen full-time in mid-June, after 10 strong however unspectacular begins (52 1/3 innings, 4.30 ERA , 20.4 Ok%, 11.7 BB%).

In the bullpen, issues have gone higher. Martinez has tallied 48 1/3 innings in reduction and labored to a 2.05 ERA. His 21.5% strikeout price within the ‘pen is solely reasonably larger than it was out of the rotation, however to his credit score, Martinez’s 4.7% stroll price as a reliever is miles higher than it was popping out of the rotation. (Whether groups deem that to be sustainable is one other open query.) He’s picked up eight saves and 6 holds for the Friars, however early on, nearly all of his work got here in lower-leverage conditions. Even three of these eight saves had been of the three-inning selection in lengthy reduction. He’s been utilized in later, higher-leverage spots because the summer time has worn on, however Martinez will probably end the season having spent solely a couple months working within the important leverage spots for which groups are inclined to pay prime greenback.

There are different parts to think about, too. Martinez charges properly by way of his general common exit velocity, yielding simply an 86.6 mph common to his opponents. That checks into the 87th percentile amongst MLB pitchers. He additionally boasts above-average spin on his fastball and curveball alike, and Martinez has excelled at inducing chases on pitches off the plate. However, Martinez’s 37.2% hard-hit price is barely higher than the league-average, and the 8.2% barrel price he is yielded is properly shy of the league common (thirty second percentile). Basically, when he does permit contact, he is been far more vulnerable to loud contact than one would anticipate when trying on the imply outcomes.

Martinez’s case is an attention-grabbing one. He did not thrive in a rotation position, even when going through hitters the primary time by the order (.282/.311/.447). As is sometimes the case, these numbers worsened the second and third time he confronted an opponent in a recreation. He’s been glorious the primary journey by the lineup as a reliever, nonetheless (.201/.261/.289), although he did not fully overhaul his pitch arsenal when shifting to bullpen work. At a time when relievers and even some starters are gravitating towards specializing in two plus pitches, Martinez’s strategy is unusual: he is the uncommon reliever who deploys a five-pitch combine (four-seamer, cutter, sinker, curve, changeup).

MLBTR’s Anthony Franco wrote a few weeks in the past that Martinez seems unlikely to choose out of the remaining three years on his contract, because it’s a stretch to ascertain him topping that remaining assure. There’s advantage to that line of pondering. Martinez was unexciting in a temporary run as a starter, has impressed however not dominated as a reliever, and does not have the kind of elite velocity, spin price or whiff price that serves because the portent to a breakout.

On the spectrum of outcomes, his 2022 season has not been a best-case state of affairs however has been higher than common. A ninetieth percentile end result or higher might need seen Martinez play a outstanding position and pitch towards the highest of the San Diego rotation; giving 10 serviceable begins earlier than shifting to the ‘pen and slowly climbing into a leverage position has to rank someplace within the sixtieth to seventy fifth percentile of outcomes. The Padres are definitely pleased with the year-one outcomes.

Martinez’s determination is made troublesome as a result of the very nature of the contract he signed sat outdoors the norms of standard contract buildings for typical MLB free brokers. Generally talking, free brokers very not often signal three- and four-year offers with common annual values ​​within the $6-7MM vary. Even back-end starters will crack the $8-10MM vary on one- and two-year offers. It’s not unusual to see a setup reliever signal a multi-year deal on this AAV vary, however most up-to-date examples have been of the two-year selection.

If Martinez hopes to beat the online $18MM on his contract, he’d want a group to worth him within the $10MM vary over a two-year span or an $8-9MM vary over a three-year span. In the case of the previous, that’d probably imply a group believing he can perform as a starter on a full-time foundation. The latter construction is sometimes reserved for a few of the market’s most extremely fascinating relievers (eg Kendall Graveman‘s three-year cope with the White Sox, Joe Kelly‘s three-year cope with the Dodgers). It’s laborious to incorporate Martinez in that very same class.

Still, there’s a logical disconnect between the concept that the market produced a $25.5MM assure for Martinez a yr in the past, when he was a complete wild card, however won’t produce higher than an $18MM assure now that he is confirmed himself able to offering legit worth to a contending MLB membership. The supply of that disconnect might merely be the attract of the unknown. There might but be room for Martinez to take his recreation to a different degree, however a few of the perceived upside stemming from the 1.60 ERA, 25% strikeout price and 6.9% stroll price he posted in his last NPB marketing campaign has maybe dwindled. That’s to not say he is not a beneficial huge league pitcher — he definitely has been — however now that he is extra of a longtime commodity, that very same upside won’t be baked into a potential new contract.

Suffice it to say, Martinez’s opt-out seems like one thing of a borderline case. He can fill a number of roles, has shone out of the ‘pen, held his personal within the rotation however has not dominated opponents at any step alongside the way in which. He’d have to be assured groups will view him as at the very least a $9-10MM per yr pitcher so as to choose out, as a result of although a $7-8MM AAV over a three-year time period could be a win for him, that is more durable to come back by while you’re promoting your age-32 by age-34 seasons.

If he sticks with the Padres, they’re going to be joyful to have him. Mike Clevinger and Sean Manaea are free brokers on the finish of the season, and the Friars traded MacKenzie Gore to the Nationals within the Juan Soto deal Their 2023 rotation depth is not as sound as this yr’s was and is. In the bullpen, every of Robert Suarez, Pierce Johnson and Craig Stammen can turn into a free agent. Martinez supplies some beneficial substance to each teams. The $18MM query is whether or not that worth is vital sufficient that he’ll once more check his luck on the open market.

We can shut this one out with a ballot…

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