In the final days of negotiations, the biggest thing standing in the way of the St. Louis Cardinals signing pitcher Carlos Martinez to a long-term deal was a few hundred miles of ocean.
“It’s not easy to get in touch at sea,” general manager John Mozeliak explained.
But once Martinez had wrapped up the team’s annual Caribbean cruise over the weekend, the two sides were able to put the finishing touches on a record-breaking deal. During a news conference Thursday, the Cardinals announced their five-year pact with the talented young right-hander that includes a pair of club options that could keep him in St. Louis through the 2023 season.
The contract is worth $51 million, and includes $1 million signing bonus payable within 30 days of the deal’s approval by the commissioner’s office. He gets a $3.5 million salary this season — of which $500,000 also is payable within 30 days of approval — and $11.5 million each of the next four years.
St. Louis has a $17 million option for 2022 with a $500,000 buyout and, if that is exercised, an $18 million option for 2023 with a $500,000 buyout, potentially raising the total to $85.5 million.
Martinez would get a $500,000 assignment bonus if traded between now and the end of the 2019 season, and a $1 million assignment bonus if traded after that. Starting in 2020, he gets a hotel suite on road trips.
“A lot of people were asking me (on the cruise) but I didn’t say anything. I didn’t mention the contract,” Martinez said with a grin. “I just said my lawyers and John were in conversations.”
The contract breaks the record for a pitcher reaching arbitration for the first time, surpassing the $38.5 million, five-year deal that the Indians signed with Corey Kluber in 2015.
The 25-year-old Martinez made his big league debut with St. Louis in 2013, but he really broke onto the national scene two years ago, when he went 14-7 with a 3.01 ERA and was voted an All-Star. He followed up with a 16-9 record and a 3.04 ERA in 31 starts last season.
“This type of contract is all about the future,” Mozeliak said. “This is about future earnings, and when you have someone at 25 years old who can hit free agency at 28, his leverage is far different than someone hitting free agency at 32 and not having to earn much at that point. Carlos felt it was important to get something done now.”
Martinez, speaking through a translator, called the contract “something I’ve always dreamed of for myself, for my family, since I was a little boy growing up in the Dominican Republic.”
“Thinking of my future, my age, I really thought this was an opportunity I couldn’t let go of,” he said. “The Cardinals were offering it to me and I said, ‘Why not?'”
The Cardinals were prepared to take Martinez to an arbitration hearing scheduled for next week after failing to reach a one-year deal. They had offered $3.9 million and the pitcher’s representatives filed for $4.25 million, a gap that meant the sides were at least close to a deal.
But they never stopped discussing a long-term solution, even when Martinez departed for a week at sea, and the final bits of the negotiation came into focus on Monday.
“Our focus was to find a way to get a multiyear deal done,” Mozeliak said. “We were able to bring this to a head and obviously felt good about where we are on this, and ultimately had this gone to a hearing, I don’t know what the next step would have been. But when I think back to the timing of this, it comes back to trying to keep Carlos in a Cardinals uniform as long as possible.”
The deal leaves pitcher Michael Wacha as the Cardinals’ only unsigned arbitration-eligible player.
Mozeliak said the contract with Martinez helped to turn around a difficult week for the franchise, which had its top two picks in this year’s amateur draft given to Houston on Monday along with $2 million in fines as compensation for hacking the Astros’ email system and scouting database. Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred also banned former St. Louis executive Christopher Correa for life in the unusual case of cybercrime. Correa is already serving a 46-month prison term.
“Obviously this past week has been full of some ups and downs for us,” Mozeliak said. “I think getting to this point, at some level we’re at a finish line. But we’ll get back upstairs, we will focus on the arbitration hearing with Mr. Wacha and see if there’s any other business down the road.”