ST. LOUIS -- A week before the two sides were to sit at opposite tables in an arbitration hearing, the Cardinals and Carlos Martinez came together at the same one on Thursday to solidify Martinez's place as a centerpiece in the organization's future.
At a morning news conference, general manager John Mozeliak announced that the Cardinals and Martinez had agreed to a five-year contract. A source told MLB.com that the deal is worth $51 million, making it the largest contract for a first-time arbitration-eligible pitcher. It also includes two team options, meaning the contract could take Martinez through the 2023 season.
"Thinking ahead to the future, my age, I really thought it was an opportunity that I couldn't let go," said Martinez, who turned 25 in September. "It's a wonderful opportunity for me and my family to be able to do something like this. ... I've secured my future. I've secured my family's future. I'm going to be the same person on the mound. I'm just happy to be here in this position."
The agreement eliminated the need for an arbitration hearing and allowed the Cardinals to buy out at least two of Martinez's free-agent years. He was due to become a free agent after the 2019 season, at the age of 28.
"Carlos felt it was important to get something done now; so did the Cardinals," Mozeliak said. "When you look at the future now, knowing that Carlos Martinez can anchor this rotation for the next five years, that feels and sounds pretty good to me."
The mutual desire to come to an agreement led the two parties to open up negotiations earlier this offseason. Those talks stalled last month when both sides filed arbitration numbers, but discussions resumed soon after. The parameters of the eventual agreement were agreed upon Monday, Mozeliak said.
"Here's a young man who had a lot of opportunities in front of him," Mozeliak said. "He certainly could have been patient and sought free agency in three years. But his commitment to the Cardinals and the city of St. Louis was something that drove him to want to do this.
"As we think about a contract like this, it's really about trying to make an investment in our future and understanding that we see him as an emerging star, someone who is going to be an elite performer for a long time."
Indeed, the Cardinals believe they have a future ace in Martinez, who anchored the team's rotation in 2016. He led the club with 31 starts and 195 1/3 innings pitched, and ranked among the National League's best in wins (16, 5th), quality starts (20, 6th), ERA (3.04, 9th), innings pitched (10th) and opponents' batting average (.233, 12th).
Martinez also induced 33 double plays, one shy of the franchise record, and ranked second in the NL with a ground-ball percentage of 57.7. His 0.69 home runs per nine innings was fourth-best among NL pitchers.
Martinez's winning percentage of .618 ranks third all-time among Cardinals pitchers age 25 or younger with a minimum of 50 decisions.
"When I think about him, we already talk about him in that elite status of a potential No. 1 and a dominating-type starter," Mozeliak said. "When you think about his performance over the last couple years, there's no reason not to like where it's headed."
Signed as a free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2010, Martinez evolved from a top prospect to an enigmatic talent to a staff ace over his seven seasons in pro baseball, all with St. Louis. His career nearly took a different course, however, as it was the Red Sox who initially signed Martinez in '09. Paperwork issues caused that deal to crumble, and the Cardinals took advantage.
Martinez has not looked back since.
"This is something I've always dreamed of for my family," Martinez said. "Since I was a little boy growing up in the Dominican Republic, baseball has been my life and something that I've always loved to do. I'm very thankful for this opportunity, thankful to the Cardinals. I always just waited for the day where I could be independent and rely on myself to bring that future for myself and my family."
With Martinez's contract in place, the Cardinals now have several rotation pieces secured for the long term. Mike Leake is signed through 2020, and top prospect Alex Reyes won't be a free agent until '22. Adam Wainwright, long the ace of the Cardinals' rotation, is signed through '18.
Michael Wacha, who is under team control for three more seasons, now sits as the organization's only unsigned arbitration-eligible player. The Cards plan on taking Wacha's case to an arbitration hearing.
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, follow her on Twitter, like her Facebook page and listen to her podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.