Bargain basement MLB free agent target to watch: Nick Martinez

The veteran MLB pitcher enters free agency quietly. but with a demonstrated ability to fill any role.

San Diego Padres starting pitcher Nick Martinez
San Diego Padres starting pitcher Nick Martinez / Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

If I was GM of a team needing pitching at a bargain rate (which I believe would be every team in MLB), I’d be talking to Bob Garber about Nick Martinez.

Garber is the brains behind RMG Baseball and the agent for Martinez, a 30-something free agent pitcher. For various reasons that combine demonstrated talent, potential and identity, Martinez shakes out as one of the best available bargain bets on the pitching market this offseason.

MLB GMs love pitchers who combine quality performance with cost-efficiency, and Nick Martinez is the personification of that combination.

With San Diego the past two seasons, he’s worked 216 innings in 110 appearances, 19 of them starts, with nine saves. He had a 10-8 record and a 3.45 ERA. That’s nearly a full point below the league average, something you could also discern by looking at his 119 and 109 ERA-pluses for those two seasons.

The above paragraph describes a pitcher who’s talented, durable, and who’s not tethered to a single role. If I need a starter, Martinez can do it. If I need a closer, Martinez can do it. If I need an innings-eater, Martinez can do it. If I need a bulk guy, Martinez can do it.

Even better, as the rep for Martinez, Garber isn’t likely to be overly demanding. Unlike a lot of the names drawing the pitching-market attention, Martinez (whose two-year contract with the Padres expired at season’s end) has hit free agency virtually anonymously. He is, after all, entering his age-33 season with career numbers that are not as compelling as his recent record dictates.

Due largely to four awkward years learning how to pitch in Texas followed by a five-season minor league odyssey, the career stats for Martinez are unimpressive: 27-38 with a 4.31 ERA. His age means he can be gotten on a short-term deal, probably for not much more than the $10 million the Padres paid him in 2023.

For reasons that probably have to do with an obligation the Padres felt to their bigger-named pitchers, they never really figured out what to do with Martinez. He made nine starts, most of them early in the season, then was sent to the bullpen, working mostly as a middle guy. It was an odd decision because Martinez showed legit cred as a starter, delivering a 2.32 ERA in that role with a .182 opponents batting average and a .557 OPS.

He made four of his starts in April, then none at all until August. Between September 17 and season’s end, he made three final starts, allowing exactly zero runs and just five hits across a dozen innings.

Is the average of four innings per start a concern? Not really, given that he’d been used in relief for the five months. All five of his April starts lasted at least into the fifth inning, averaging better than six innings per start.

If I can persuade Garber to sign Martinez for two years at $10 million per year (and given his age and background, that's at least a solid starting point for negotiations), I’m betting I’ve got a reliable arm who can give me 20 starts and 120 innings of above-average performance with minimal risk of injury. And he can do so without breaking my budget. As a GM, I’m all in on that.

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