Cards considering moving Martinez to outfield

First baseman's bat impressive but defense remains a concern

June 30th, 2018

ST. LOUIS -- While they remain committed to keeping 's bat in the middle of the lineup, the Cardinals are still wrestling with how to reduce Martinez's suspect defense at first base.
Installed as the starting first baseman on the heels of a breakout rookie season, Martinez has looked out of sorts at a position that he played sparingly until breaking into the Majors two years ago. The defensive metrics are telling for Martinez, who entered Saturday with -6 defensive runs saved, an ultimate zone rating of -5.3 and -10.3 defensive runs above average.
His seven errors and .987 fielding percentage are also Major League worsts.
"Everything happens at first [base]: You get the last out. You get the throw. You're involved on a lot of the plays," long-time infield instructor Jose Oquendo said. "I always say that it's my belief that when you have Gold Glove-caliber infielders, you have to have a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman. [The Cardinals] have in the past, when you talk about Keith Hernandez, . Those are the ones who are going to help make the other guys better.
"[Martinez] works hard, but he's learning how to play first."
Oquendo credited Martinez with showing up regularly for early defensive work, but the learning curve has been slow. St. Louis has focused on positioning Martinez farther from the foul line since he doesn't range as well to his right, and Oquendo has drilled Martinez by throwing him balls in the dirt, as well as ones that hook just before they reach the bag.
Both continue to give Martinez fits, as was evidenced again when he was unable to pick a low throw from shortstop in the sixth inning on Friday. Oquendo noted that Martinez faces a pair of challenges -- his height (6-foot-7) and injury history (meniscus transplant) -- that affect his agility.
"There have been balls that a normal first baseman would get, but they're not easy for him being so tall," Oquendo said. "When you look at it, this is the Major Leagues. You can make better throws, too."
As the miscues pile up, so, too, do the Cardinals' conversations about other options. One of those would involve using Martinez in the outfield, as the club did for the final three innings during Saturday's 11-4 loss.
With a right-field timeshare of and gaining little offensive traction, Martinez could squeeze into that mix with more regularity, especially once infielder returns from the disabled list. Matt Carpenter could shift across the diamond to play first.
How much of a difference that would make defensively is debatable, though, given that Martinez posted a -6 DRS as an outfielder last season.
"None of that is out of the question," said Cardinals manager Mike Matheny, who, unprompted, brought up the outfield as a possibility. "We haven't featured it yet, but it's something that is in conversation. [Martinez] has been doing work out there [in the outfield], too. He's prepared if that's the direction we ever want to go. But right now, it's, 'How do we improve at first base?'"
What the Cardinals are not considering is pulling playing time away from Martinez. With a .301/.370/.493 slash line at the season's midway point, Martinez is still producing an offensive WAR (1.6) that offsets his defensive one (-1.1).
"Look, Jose Martinez has earned a spot in the lineup every day, so we have to figure out a spot to play him," general manager Michael Girsch said. "We probably could have a better defense if Jose wasn't hitting as well, but that wouldn't necessarily make us a better team."