We all know the tragic tale of Fernando Martinez. The former crown jewel of Omar Minaya's farm system was constantly injured and poorly handled, and the new front office was clearly not as enamored of his skill set. Ultimately — with only so many reps to go around for left-handed outfielders in this organization at or above Triple-A — they did not buy in.
And so the outfielder was placed on irrevocable waivers back in January, a move necessitated by the additions of and to the 40-man roster. Both were certainly worthwhile transactions, yet it still stung a bit when the Astros nabbed the former top prospect for the whopping price of "on the house" — technically they paid a small waiver fee — especially with guys like Josh Stinson and D.J. Carrasco still on the roster.
But the question remains: Would the Mets be better off with Fernando Martinez on their roster? On the surface it seems like a silly, Monday-morning-quarterback kind of thought, born from the frustration of a season that went down the tubes. Besides, what could a 23-year-old with arthritic knees and a career .203 average with five homers in four major league seasons do to help this club?
Well, first and foremost, as the Mets struggle through a historically bad offensive stretch, it's become painfully clear that the team needs some help in the outfield (click image to embiggen):
*As of 9/18/12
And this isn't just a problem with the big league club. The Mets' most advanced outfield prospect — Matt den Dekker — batted .220 in Triple-A with 90 strikeouts and just 14 walks. Kirk Nieuwenhuis thrilled fans by batting .325 over his first 22 games with the Mets, only to bat .223 over the next 69, tallying more than a strikeout per game in that span. Jordany Valdespin has been unsteady to say the least in his first shot at the outfield, while the more advanced Lucas Duda mostly spit the bit (especially defensively) in his first full big league season.
Back to Martinez. We all know about his flaws, none more glaring than all of the health problems he has had. In his five years as a member of the Mets organization he never once topped 90 games played. Flip the calendar to Fall 2012 and wouldn't you know it, Martinez is up to 122 games in his first year for the Astros (split between Triple-A and the majors).
Then there's the matter of his pedestrian career offensive numbers. He never hit much as a member of the Mets (.183/.250/.290) and this season as an Astro he's batting just .230. But perhaps the crux of any revisionist discussion about Martinez, which this most certainly is, is this: since becoming an everyday player Martinez has hit this season.
Houston gave him the keys to right field at the beginning of August; since then he has an .800+ OPS. What's more, over his last 19 games he's batting .314/.400/.549 with a pair of homers (a couple of absolute bombs no less).
The resulting discussion goes something like this:
Somebody: "Rob, that's just 19 games. Not even three full weeks."
Me: "Ok then, let's count how many such stretches of just 19 straight games of starts the Mets afforded FMart since he made his big league debut back in 2009. Ok...let's see now...that comes to...zero."
Martinez was never given a similar stretch of consistent playing time with the Mets. In fact, the club never even gave Martinez ten starts in a row. As a Met his longest period of consecutive starts was seven games back in June 2009. Not exactly the greatest vote of confidence for a kid that was projected by many to take the baton from Jose Reyes and David Wright.
Somebody: "But he he did get that kind of playing time in the minor leagues."
Me: "Yes he did...and as a result he hit."
Don't get me wrong, he didn't always mash in the minors, but a .282/.340/.479 career line at Triple-A certainly isn't bad. And this season he's surpassed those totals with a very solid .314/.367/.507 line in Oklahoma City.
Did some of the playing time issues revolve around Martinez's inability to play consistently? Of course they did. Hell, the guy was just benched in Houston for a couple days with — what else — right knee soreness.
Maybe it was the prudent move to turn the page on a player who looked like he would always be more potential than performance. After all, I hardly complained when it opened at-bats for guys like Lucas Duda and Mike Baxter. Nevertheless, while Martinez might not be the second coming of Ted Williams like we all thought, the kid is now looking like a major league asset.
And as the Mets' outfield options continue to wither on the vine, it's worth pointing out that in his first real, extended shot, FMart is doing what the scouts said he could do. Maybe it's a mirage. Maybe it's not. Maybe his knee will fall off next week. Who knows? What I do know is that this club could use as many promising young position players as it can get right now and unfortunately, one of them is raking down in Houston instead of in Queens.