Mailbag: Russell Martin, Utility Player?

Report: Yanks ink Luis Vizcaino to a minor league deal
Fan Confidence Poll: December 20th, 2010
Jeterian. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Tom asks: I know Russell Martin was said to be looking for a catching job, as opposed to a bench/utility gig. With that in mind though, if they end up with him and Montero splitting time at catcher, could Martin see some action at third? Depending on circumstances it could be a better option than using the utility man (Pena?) every time A-Rod needs a day, as well as allow him to get more playing time, for example if he and Montero are both playing well.

Like Jorge Posada, Martin was drafted as a second baseman out of a junior college late in the draft (17th round for Martin, 24th for Jorge). He stayed on the infield for one year in the minors before being converted to catcher, again just like Posada. Martin has played third base sparingly since then (that was 2003), just one more game in the minors and a dozen total in the big leagues. I think his ability to be a utility player, even just a guy that fills in at third once in a while, has been overstated a bit this winter. He’s not much more of an emergency option at that spot these days, not a guy that could play there on a semi-regular basis.

I do like your idea of using Martin at third and Jesus Montero behind the plate whenever Alex Rodriguez needs a day off, but I think we’re being a little unrealistic and perhaps unfair with our expectations. It sounds like a great idea and looks good on paper, but we have to remember that Martin is going to need days off (complete days off) after the absurd workloads he’s experienced over the last few seasons. We also have to remember that his experience at the hot corner (especially at the big league level) is very limited, and it could be hazardous (literally) to put him out there. He could misread a hop or not react to a line drive in time, all sorts of stuff, and nobody wants that.

Now that the Yankees have a little extra cash to throw around, I fully expect them to bring in a more qualified bench player at some point this offseason. We’ve already seen them connected to Jerry Hairston Jr. and Jeff Keppinger just this past week alone, and both of those guys would be a considerable upgrade over Eduamiro Penunez and would allow the Yankees to avoid using Martin on the infield. I’m sure he could do it if the team asked him too, I’m just not convinced it’s a wise thing to do on a regular basis.

Like I said, I like the idea in a vacuum, but I’d rather not screw around with Martin and make his life any more difficult than it already is right now. He already has an entirely new pitching staff to learn, not to mention change leagues and cities. Expecting him to play third base even just  once every two or three weeks is probably piling on. I’d much rather see the Yankees just bring in a more qualified utility infielder and let Martin focus on his job behind the dish.

Report: Yanks ink Luis Vizcaino to a minor league deal
Fan Confidence Poll: December 20th, 2010
  • Carlosologist

    It would be like Thames at third all over again. Just leave the man where he is, behind the dish.

  • Jeff Levy

    Remember when Cervelli played third base last year? I don’t want to see that kind of thing happen again.

    • Richard Iurilli

      Eh, stuff like that happens every year. Molina did the same thing at both first and third base in 2009.

      • Dave

        Yes, that stuff does happen. But it’s not planned on. Injuries and late-injury switches necessitate that sometimes. But the next day, Kevin Russo is usually called up from AAA.

    • Andy In Sunny Daytona

      I saw Cervelli make a great play at 3rd in ST last year.

  • Dela G

    Completely Agree

  • Dave

    They didn’t pick up Martin as an option for 3B. They brought him in to catch. If he ends up there as an emergency late-inning switch, so be it.

    They have better options out there for back-up infielders.

    The notion that Montero would start so that Martin could play 3rd and A-Rod could DH is also a bit far-fetched. It may happen ONCE OR TWICE, but not with any regularity. Yanks don’t pay Martin $4M unless they intend for him to be the main catcher.

    And if you plan on certain days to start Montero, why put Martin at 3rd? To get HIS bat in the lineup?

    Negative. On days that A-Rod needs to “rest” or DH, you’re gonna put a slick fielding backup at third and keep Martin at catcher.

    • Dave

      Furthermore, if you’re trying to get Montero’s bat in the lineup and playing catcher, why exactly would you bench A-Rod for Martin?

      (this comment might seem redundant, but addresses the ‘get Montero ABs’ scenario vs. The ‘Rest A-Rod’ scenario. Those are the only 2 reasons I can figure that people are trying to make Martin play 3rd).

  • Mattchu12

    I’ve always thought it would be worth seeing if Montero could play third base? It started as a ‘if he cant be a catcher’ thought, but became a ‘good way to keep him in the lineup yet give him days off so Martin can get behind the plate too’ thought.

    All in all, I’m not liking the chances. If neither Martin or Montero mind taking some third base practice during the spring training and occasionally during pre-game warm ups, why not?

    • Monteroisdinero

      You must not have seen Montero in person. NO WAY he can play 3B. With him at 3rd and Jeter at SS you could roll the ball underhand in between them for a basehit. Montero will be ok as a catcher. In the future he could play 1B and be a weak corner OF’er. That’s about it.

      • Mattchu12

        No, I haven’t seen Montero in person. I live in Alaska.

        As far as Montero’s defense goes, I have to admit that having seen Pablo Sandoval in person though, I’m not ready to say anyone’s body will prevent them from starting at third base, haha.

        • jsbrendog (returns)

          this is what i was thinking

          • Monteroisdinero

            It’s a quickness thing. Think Miguel Cabrera playing 3rd. Not a comforting thought.

            • jsbrendog (returns)

              he did full time for the marlins until he was traded to detroit. and his uzr/150 wasnt godawful at a -3.4 and a – 4.4 respectively. good? no. horrific? nope

              • jsbrendog (returns)

                fyi those were the first and third highest WAR seasons of his career

                • Mattchu12

                  For what it’s worth, and this is for Monteroisdinero too, I was mostly taking a dig at Pablo Sandoval, not defending my idea of letting them at least work on their third base skills if they are willing.

                  A-Rod is only going to miss like, a game every two or three weeks. I’m not concerned with having Pena/Nunez getting four to eight at-bats every two to three weeks.

  • camilo Gerardo

    if we don’t get a CI bench player, by all means, make martin play 3rd teh TEN-15! days that Alex needs rest

  • Brett

    Maybe slightly off topic, but has there been a precendant of a full-time catcher suddenly playing a fulltime DH and never catching the next year?

    • Monteroisdinero

      Are you referring to Posada? He hasn’t been full time in 3 years due to injuries. I have my doubts he gets through this season healthy whatever he does. He hit .248 last year. Hopefully he can better that and his 18 HR’s but I am not optimistic due to age and wear. We will do our best to get our $13M worth.

      • jsbrendog (returns)

        dude, he still ops+ 116 and was a 1.6 WAR player. sold.

    • Jerome S.

      Not that I can think of, but can’t you think of Piazza doing that?

  • OldYanksFan

    Girardi said this winter that he should have/would have liked to rest Jeter more. With 3 more years on the books, the ‘need’ will only increase. And so too with ARod, who we have to keep healthy for SEVEN more years.

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the Jeter/ARod (and Cano?) sub didn’t make us throw up in our mouths a bit? I don’t know who is available/appropriate aside from JHJr, but I think a decent hitting UIF is pretty important. We have some ‘extra’ money… why not splurge on this position?

    I mean, we do have Nunez/Pena there to save money…. but nobody wants to see these guys at the plate.

    • jsbrendog (returns)

      decent hitting utility infielder and jerry hairston jr should not be in the same sentence.

      last 2 yrs ops +:

      hairston, 85, 83

      at least keppinger was slightly over 100 last yr.

      plus, players don’t sign to sit on the bench. anyone who fits the mold you want can sign somewhere else ot be a starter, like Pitt or kc, maybe oakland, possibly sandiego.

      • OldYanksFan

        I am not campaigning for JHJr… just the best UINF we can find. Yes… nobody decent wants to sit on the bench. But IF he was decent, we can 1) play him a lot more then Pena played last year 2) offer more MONEY then another team 3) offer a decent chance for the PS and a Ring.

        Yes… Kepp would be nice.

        Any if we get someone decent, we can tell him (secretly) that he has an opportunity to Pipp Jeter.

        I know it’s a tall order, but I’m just identlfying it as a real need. Should we rest Jeter 20 games? ARod 10-15 games? Cano 10 games?

        • Slugger27

          wouldnt it be to “gehrig” him… making jeter “pipp”

    • The Three Amigos

      I agree, a good Infielder utility who can play SS, 2B, 3B is key going forward. I love Robbie, but even him playing as much as he did last year is probably a stretch too. Signing both Hairston brothers would be pretty cool. Hopefully, no one offers them starting gigs.

  • jayd808

    I like the idea of a catcher being able to tell a middle infielder “Hey, man up asshole. They tell me to play your position when I need a day off.”


  • Ted Nelson

    I think it’s a lot more of an issue if Montero forces his way into the line-up. If at some point Montero plays better than Martin, and Martin plays pretty well… maybe the Yankees consider playing Martin a bit at 3rd. Might also take A-Rod or a utility guy getting hurt. So, yeah, probably not going to happen but could be a nice option to have should the situation warrant it.