After bouncing around the minors for 10 years, the late-blooming Jose Martinez seemed to finally find a home with the St. Louis Cardinals in 2017 at age 28, hitting over .300 with an OPS+ above 120 in both 2017 and 2018.
Of course, what Martinez provided with the bat, he gave back with the glove, posting negative defensive numbers whether stationed at first base or in a corner outfield slot. When his bat slipped in 2019, he became a net negative, dropping from 1.8 bWAR the previous season to a -0.4 number.
Martinez was shipped to the Tampa Bay in January 2020 in a four-player trade that also involved draft picks. While the Rays gave up a notable prospect in Matthew Liberatore, people were predisposed to assume the Rays were making a savvy move—which they were, as Martinez came to Tampa along with future postseason hero Randy Arozarena. Arozarena in particular claimed the playing time the slumping Martinez did not earn in Tampa, and Martinez was shipped to the Cubs for cash considerations, where he ended the season on a brutal 0-21 slide.
While 2020 was certainly an odd season, two years of subpar offense left Martinez entering this offseason with his star on the wane. However, as a 32 year old with a career .307/.382/.534/.915 slash line against lefties, someone would certainly take a shot on him as a bench bat with some bounce back potential. On January 14, that someone became a Mets team with a lefty-heavy lineup and a clear desire to build roster depth this offseason. The team signed the outfielder/first baseman to a one-year, split contract in which he would receive a $1 million if he made the MLB roster, or $225,000 in the minors.
Martinez entered spring with a strong shot at a bench role, and the team gave him time at both corner outfield spots as well as first base early in spring. Unfortunately, it was at first base that Martinez’s spring came to an abrupt end, as he tore his meniscus on an awkward play trying to avoid an umpire in early spring. The injury required surgery which is expected to keep Martinez out up to four months
The Martinez signing seemed potentially more intriguing with the assumption that the 2021 season would be played under 2020 rules. With a larger roster and a designated hitter in the NL, Martinez’s bat could have proved useful off the bench—or even found his way into semi-regular playing time as a designated hitter against left-handers—while virtually eliminating his glove. Now Martinez will hope to bounce back from meniscus surgery in time to contribute at all in 2021, and any role he may have with the team by the time he is healthy will likely be determined more by the state and health of the roster late in the season.