Cardinals facing crowded right field

Expecting bounce-back season for Fowler, team must find ways to get Martinez into games

January 20th, 2019

ST. LOUIS -- In a camp where so much else will still have to be settled, the Cardinals do expect to open Spring Training relatively confident of the eight position players manager Mike Shildt will deploy in his starting lineup on Opening Day.

That won't, however, reduce the spotlight on right field.

The Cardinals tried to downplay potential drama by coming out earlier this offseason with statements of support for . President of baseball operations John Mozeliak and Shildt even traveled to meet with him to express their confidence of a coming bounce-back season in person.

pain-free and ready to compete

With that affirmation came a growing expectation that the Cardinals would deal , who drew interest particularly as a designated hitter option following a season in which he overshadowed his defensive limitations by becoming the first Cardinal since (2010) to hit .300 with 30 doubles, 162 hits and 80 RBIs.

But with three weeks remaining before camp opens, Martinez is still here. That's not likely to change, either, as the Cardinals have not received offers that they are prepared to seriously entertain.

So where, then, does Martinez -- arguably the team's most consistent offensive player over the last two seasons -- fit?

"I think Jose has to come in with a very open mind," Mozeliak said. "Nothing is written in stone or in ink. There's a lot of unknowns, but the kind of offense he brings, he's going to find himself in probably every single game and so he has to prepare himself that way."

The Cardinals' pledge to give Fowler every opportunity to seize a starting job means they intend to be creative in how they deploy Martinez, who has an .850 OPS since breaking into the big leagues in 2016. Shildt suggested Martinez could nudge his way into the starting lineup when the Cardinals face a left-handed starter, and Martinez projects to be the team's most potent bat off the bench.

He could also be positioned to pounce should Fowler stumble or hit a setback that lessens the Cardinals' commitment to getting him regular at-bats. Whatever the role, wherever the fit, Martinez seemed willing to embrace it without complaint.

"I'm just going to be happy to be a part of this team," Martinez said. "No matter what it is I can do off the bench or something, I'm just going to go out there and help the team win. It's not something I'm treating where I'm mad or disappointed or something like that with the decisions that the front office and Mike are going to make. I'm just going to go out there and try to do my job like I always do, show up with the same energy, same positive attitude and just contribute to the team."

open to extension talks with Cards

Preparing Martinez for a backup role doesn't mean the Cardinals expect Fowler to coast. A subpar spring could force the organization to rethink its plans or consider Martinez for a larger role.

Fowler enters the third season of his five-year deal with the burden of proving he is not in the middle of a precipitous decline. He slashed .180/.278/.298 in 90 games last season. His OPS was more than 200 points lower than his career average.

"Obviously, if your expectations are here," Fowler said, gesturing high with his hand, "and you don't make it and you don't go as far as you want, you try to wipe that slate clean and learn from it and build on it. I think that's what we're going to do.

"I feel like [fans] haven't seen the version of me that they expected to get."