Feb
28

A Sign of the Catcher Contract Apocalypse

By

We’ve heard quite a bit about contract talks between the Yankees and Russell Martin over the last few weeks, though the two sides have mutually agreed to put negotiations on hold until after the season. Martin will earn $7.5M this summer before becoming eligible for free agency at the end of the season, which is something the team should try to avoid if they’re serious about keeping him around for another few years. As the Cardinals are about the show the baseball world, quality catchers are not cheap.

Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Cards and Yadier Molina — who is also scheduled to become a free agent after the season — are putting the finishing touches on a five-year extension worth $70-75M. Molina is an excellent catcher, one of the very best in the game, but is he $15M a year until he’s 35 excellent? Remember, this is a guy that was below average offensively (82 wRC+ from ’04-’10) even for a catcher (86 wRC+ league average) prior to his breakout last season (123 wRC+). That increased production could be real since he is in his prime years, and it’s worth noting that he hit way more fly balls than ever before in 2011, explaining how he doubled his previous career high in homers. Molina’s a fantastic defender, but Tony LaRussa also started him behind the plate 130+ times in each of the last four years. That’s a lot of wear and tear.

Assuming Yadi’s deal is finalized at the reported terms, the happiest people in baseball will be Martin, Mike Napoli, Miguel Montero, and their agents. The catcher salary bar has just been raised substantially, to the point where these guys could ask for $10-12M annually before they even hit the open market after the season. Given the dearth of quality catching around the league, the bidding could get to be outrageous in free agency.

“[Molina's] contract gives you something to point to now,” said Martin’s agent Matt Colleran to Joel Sherman. “They are two really good all-around catchers. For Russell, you couldn’t point to Victor Martinez, who was more a catcher/DH and Napoli is kind of similar. … It could shape up as a unique situation. But all of that is speculation for the time being. Russell is a Yankee and he would like to stay a Yankee.”

Martin isn’t as good as Molina, Montero, or Napoli, but he’s certainly better than average and is still a full year away from his 30th birthday. If he stays healthy and puts together another 100 wRC+ season or (gasp!) improves during his second season in New York, he’d be foolish not to see what free agency has to offer. That’s bad news for the Yankees, because it will make it even harder to retain him.

I’ve been suggesting a three-year, $25-30M contract for Martin over the last few weeks, but that may have gone from “reasonable” to “best case scenario” for the Yankees thanks to Molina’s deal. Luckily they do have solid internal options in Austin Romine and Frankie Cervelli if they do balk at Martin’s price and let him go, but I have to think a contending team would prefer to have a (better than average) veteran catcher rather than roll the dice with kids behind the plate, especially with a generally young pitching staff. If the Yankees want to wait until after the season to restart negotiations, that’s fine. But chances are a new contract with Martin is something they’ll wish they would have worked out sooner come November.

[Photo via Nick Laham/Getty]

Categories : Hot Stove League
  • Dick Whitman

    Molina contract is flat out awful. I honestly think it comes close to Ryan Howard awful.

    • Dan

      nope. not even close. Howard was a full 2 years away from becoming a FA, was a pure platoon player, a bad defender at a non-premium position, and the extension covered his decline phase (very little of his peak, if any).
      I don’t like the Yadi extension for the Cardinals, but it is nowhere near as bad as Howard’s albatross.
      If the Yanks can get martin at 3/36, that seems reasonable to me. If he wants more, I would hope that Cashman and the FO can trust the kids enough….

      • Dick Whitman

        A full 2 years (!1!1!!) vs a full 1 year (!!1!). Ryan Howard vs LHP sports a career .323 wOBA. Molina has performed at a robust .310 wOBA for his career regardless of which hand the pitcher throws with (Venditte excluded). Molina may be, according to the data and knowledge we have, the best defensive catcher in MLB, but FRAA says Howard is probably league average defensively. The extension will more than likely cover Molina’s decline. 27 isn’t a law of nature, it’s a statistical guideline. Furthermore, odds are that Molina will decline at a quicker rate being a catcher if continues to handle 140 games per year. 5 years with an AAV of $15mm for a catcher who brings questionable offense and solid defense? I’d rather take my chances with Jose Molina on a year by year basis until something else comes up.

        • Dan

          But a full 2 years with the extension not kicking in until those 2 years is done was, and still is absurd. From every evaluator I have read, Howard’d defense at 1B is horrific and fielding numbers for 1B can be as unreliable as for catchers (just look at Tex’s fielding numbers, and we all know he passes the eye test with flying colors). Yes, being the best defender at the 2nd or 3rd most important defensive position will earn you TONS of points (and apparently money).
          Also, with regards to age and decline phase for catchers, I highly recommend you look at fangraphs today and read this article: http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs.....mium-rate/.
          It points out that, surprisingly (to me at least) a number of catchers have aged well even with a high work load.
          I’m not defending the Yadi extension as a brilliant stroke of GMing, but to say it is worse than the Howard extension is to ignore facts about each player and their respective value on an open market/contract status prior to being extended.

          • Dick Whitman

            I don’t understand your argument. I never said Molina’s reported extension was worse than Howard’s. FRAA, the same metric that is cited above, says that Teixiera is better than league average first baseman, which isn’t relevant to the discussion. Cameron’s article is awful. He cites a group of catchers, most of which can be considered all time great position players (top 500), not just great catchers as his basis for comparison. Finding that all time great players age better relative to their peers isn’t a real finding. He might as well go ahead and conduct the same comparison of James Loney to a group of all time great 1st basemen and a couple of guys that just happened to stick with MLB teams longer than they should have. He’ll probably find a similar result.

    • CJ

      But is this contract Joe Mauer bad?

      • Jesse

        Or A-Rod bad?

  • Peter R

    ruh oh

  • JobaWockeeZ

    Romine can’t be considered as any sort of plan. His bat didn’t improve the bat despite repeating a year and his defense has always been scouted as mediocre. He has value because every other catcher sucks but internally Romine should stopgap for Murphy or Sanchez and see if they hack it.

    But I shouldn’t be worried. If Romine hits well he’s a goner. If Romine doesn’t hit well, then he won’t play. Girardi seems to be developing a crush on him though.

    • mike

      The Yanks could muddle thru a season or two with a mediocre catch first/ hit poor player, especially with the offense present at other positions.

      That was the scenario until Martin was cut and signed last year, and im sure each spring has a few guys who are 100-game guys that can split the duties with Cervelli/Romaine etc until 2014 is a memory or until Sanchez/Romaine makes their case.

      • Brian Paul

        That may be what they had planned to do, but it’s not what they did prior to Martin. Jorge, a player exactly the opposite of what you describe, was our catcher before Martin’s acquisition.

        The back up catcher has usually been the player you describe.

        • mike

          Granted for years the yanks were fortunate to have Jorge, but for 2011 it was clear Jorge was the DH and Cervelli/TBA was going to handle the position….and prior to Martin being cut the pickings were really slim in the marketplace.

    • ROBTEN

      “Girardi seems to be developing a crush on him though.”

      Why? What other options were there at the end of the year?

      Cervelli was out.

      Montero was either considered not fully ready to start at catcher (he still did get 22 innings behind the plate) or, depending upon whether you believe they were always going to trade him, Girardi was told not to expose his limits behind the plate and hurt his trade value.

      On days when Martin was given a rest in preparing for the playoffs, if not Romine who should have started instead?

      I’m not trying to be snarky, but this seems to me that this is a narrative that is based solely on what happened during two weeks in September (which often has as much meaning as spring training does).

    • RetroRob

      Based on what? The Yankees sending out a search-and-recovery team to find Austin Romine somewhere on the byways of America last September had more to do with their lack of faith in Jesus Montero behind the plate than necessarily any great love of Romine’s defense. I have to say, what I saw of Montero last spring, multiple games in AAA last year, and his few innings behind the plate in September leads me to believe they’re right.

      As for Romine, we’ll have to see. Trenton is not a good hitter’s park, especially for RH’d power. He may still develop into a .270/15 HR, decent defense MLB catcher. Or maybe he’ll just be an upgraded option over Cervelli. The Yankees better hold on to him, though, until they lock up Martin or find an upgrade.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      “Girardi seems to be developing a crush on him though.”

      For TMZ, I’m JobaWockeeZ reporting.

      If Romine develops appropriately, then you have an additional reason to have Martin walk. If he doesn’t, and Martin becomes too expensive for his actual production, then you have a bit of pickle on your hands that was still worth acquring Michael Pineda over.

      Could a non-optimal Romine and Cervelli carry things for a year until the team figures out if JR Murphy is next in line?

  • Josh

    It’s a rather wide market. Salvador Perez just signed a 5 year contract for only $7 million.

    • Steve (different one)

      Which covers zero years of free agency. It’s basically irrelevant..

      • Josh

        Not true, it has 3 option years. Could be an 8 year $26.75 million contract.

        I realize there is no comparison between Martin and Perez, just merely saying there has been some rather substantial moves in catcher contracts.

        • Steve (different one)

          Fair enough. Was just going on the 5 year $7M portion you quoted.

        • RetroRob

          In other words, it’s not a wide market. Perez has vitually zero MLB time and the Royals just made a big committment to a catcher with no experience hoping to save money in the long run because quality catchers are expensive.

  • Bil

    Russell Martin cant hit to save his life. he needs to go. worst offensive catcher of the last two decades!

    • Steve (different one)

      Here you go:

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs.....justments/

      Bone up on some basics and then come back to discuss.

    • jsbrendog

      Bil, if that is your real name….

    • Klemy

      Looks like an attempted troll, but nothing else.

    • Jesse

      Obvious troll is obvious.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      I don’t need Baseball Reference to resent that.

      Love,
      Kelly Stinnett

  • Johnny O

    Russell Martin averaged 150 games a year from 2007-2009. Torre’d

    I like him for 2012 but don’t think he’s a sure enough thing to drop more than $30M on if he’s not a free agent.

    • thenamestsam

      I think the big picture point is that $30M is not a lot on the free agent market at this point. Inflation is happening and our ideas of what guys are worth have to change. $30M isn’t getting you any kind of sure thing on the free agent market except certain mediocrity.

  • the Other Steve S.

    Russ is staring pretty intently at that toilet.

  • Steve (different one)

    If the price for catchers skyrockets, isn’t that a good thing for the Yankees? Even after trading Montero, they must have more catching depth than any other team in MLB, no? That allows them to use one of them in the bigs and increases the trade value of the rest.

    • Havok9120

      We’re assuming that they all pan out behind the plate. I sure hope they do but if not, we’ve stocked up on first basemen and right fielders.

  • Gonzo

    If he as a healthy and reasonably decent year, it looks like he’s worth a couple draft picks if he leaves.

    So there’s that.

    Seriously, this 2014 austerity plan is looking harder and harder if you just want to pay talent you got.

  • cranky

    I sure hate it when writers forget that baseball is a game of defense, as well. And this is no more true than it is with regard to the position of catcher.
    To suggest that Mike Napoli is “better” than Russell Martin is to suggest that offense matters much more than defense at the catcher position.
    It doesn’t. It never has. It never will.
    The number of World Series’ championship teams whose catcher hit .260/12 homeruns are too numerous to mention. That’s not true, however, about first basemen or right fielders.
    Catcher and shortstop are two positions for which D must always come first.
    And Russell Martin provides better D than Mike Napoli.

    • Steve (different one)

      Or it means that the surplus in offense outweighs the gap in defense….

    • jsbrendog

      touche, the yankees never won a ws with an offense first little defense catcher.

      wait, what’s that you say?

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

      The number of World Series’ championship teams whose catcher hit .260/12 homeruns are too numerous to mention.

      That’s because the vast majority of catchers suck and hit like that. Look at the catchers in the last three World Series and their offensive performance. It’s not an accident.

      • CP

        While that may be true, I think the overall point that Martin is better than Napoli is correct. I find it pretty damning that three different organizations (Angels, Blue Jays, and Rangers) didn’t feel that he could be an every day catcher – or at least didn’t value his as such. I am generally willing to believe that a team can miss something with these types of players, but he’s been in the majors for 6 seasons and hasn’t started more than 84 games at C. Even the Rangers had him start almost as many games at 1B and DH as he did at C.

    • CJ

      Napoli has been knocked for his defense by watching him in ALCS and WS, he looked like Johnny Bench. He made several great defensive plays and was solid the rest of the time, and he’s a big offensive threat. I didn’t see how he got the reputation of poor defensive catcher.

      • JMK

        Maybe because you only saw him for a handful of games.

      • DM

        I think people leave out game calling too much here. It’s not just glove and arm. I can see the other catchers Mike mentioned as being better — but not Napoli. He can hit but I’m not sold on the overall package just yet. The most impressive thing about Martin’s season was the ERA when he was in there. He put to sleep all that talk about this guy preferring that guy. Once Posada was out of the picture, the whole concept of who doesn’t want to throw to who completely evaporated.

  • Adam

    A question, does anyone think that Martin’s fate, and however the catching situation shakes out long term have any impact on how the Pineda trade should ultimately be judged down the road? I’m inclined to say not, but it is an interesting cog to the equation…

    • Gonzo

      I don’t think so either. I guess the variable depends on if the Yankees ever thought of Montero as a viable catching option.

    • Steve (different one)

      Probably only if Montero becomes an adequate defensive catcher.

      And even then, if Pineda wins, say, 3 Cy Youngs, that won’t really matter either.

      IOW, a lot of things could happen to change the way we think about the trade. Which is what you said.

  • thenamestsam

    It’s an interesting contract because perceptions of catcher defense are in such a state of upheaval that it’s hard to say anything with certainty. Molina’s bat and baserunning with the positional adjustment put him at 2-2.5 WAR. If you told me he was 20 runs above average a year on defense I wouldn’t consider that crazy given what we’ve learned recently about catcher defense. That makes him a 4 WAR player in a down year and a ~6 WAR player last year. In that case from a pure $/WAR perspective the deal might be pretty big discount.

    The big question is, would the market have valued him that way? I think it’s pretty doubtful given that the Rays were able to get Jose Molina (similarly elite defense) for 1 year 1.8M. Obviously he’s not anywhere near Yadier overall, but I do think that contract reflects essentially ignoring Jose’s defense. If Yadier’s defense was similarly ignored the Cards might have been able to get him re-upped for a lot less. However, as I said at the start, the interesting thing is that the perceptions are evolving rapidly. There’s a lot of uncertainty in how the market will view Yadier’s value a year from now, because so much of it comes from his defense which is something that the best analysts are still just figuring out how to value. There’s a lot of uncertainty there, for both the player and the team.

  • steve s

    Martin was originally signed by the Yanks as a reasonably priced placeholder and I don’t really think the Yanks view him much differently now nor should they. He fits pretty well on the 2012 squad but commiting to him on a multi-year deal at Molina money (or slightly less) would be a mistake especially when the Yanks can let Romine/Cervelli handle things (or continue Martin on 1 year deals) until the projected minor league catcher talent matures.

    • jsbrendog

      you really think martin will sing a 1yr deal after this year? you on dat good shit

      • steve s

        Same shit Madson was on when he signed a 1 year deal. If Martin can continue to sign $7.5 – $10MM one year deals with the Yanks as opposed to a multi-year deal with a lesser team for lesser annual money (if such offer will even exist) why wouldn’t he?

        • http://www.riveraveblues.com Mike Axisa

          Because his career could be over in an instant with no long-term security for him and his family.

          • steve s

            Martin has made/will make approximately $14MM through 2012 in his career so I think “long-term security” for his family is not necessarily driving the boat here. Sure he wants the most guarantied $$$ for the most years but if the Yanks offer him a 1 year $10MM deal in 2013 and his next best offer is from a mid-level team for a 3yr deal for less annual $$$ why wouldn’t he take that kind of one year deal that may ultimately end up being more lucrative for him if he continues to perform fairly well.

            • Havok9120

              We aren’t saying he would. We ARE saying that evidence is beginning to suggest that the next best deal won’t be anywhere NEAR 3 years and less than 10 per year..\ Too many teams (some with deep pockets) need a catcher with a decent to good bat and highly regarded defensive skills.

              • steve s

                Martin was pretty much on the scrap heap a year ago. If Martin can find a team to give him more than 3 years at more than $10MM per year after 2012 he should jump at it. He was ok in 2011 but his performance wasn’t so great that all of a sudden teams that wouldn’t consider him in 2011 will all of a sudden make him great multi-year offers in 2013. Fortunately I don’t think the Yanks view it as much of a risk to let him hit the free agent market.

                • Needed Pitching

                  Martin was on the scrap heap a year ago because he was coming back from a major hip injury
                  If he’s healthy again this year, teams absolutely will think a lot more of him than he did before he proved he was recovered from a serious injury
                  If he stays healthy this year (and at least similarly productive), 3/30 will be the likely starting point, and one-year deals will remain a pipe dream

  • Dropped Third

    If montero can stick at catcher, that’s alot of value the yankees could have just traded. 6 years of team control for a catcher with a ++ bat is really hard to find these days.

    • pat

      So is a 23 year old behemoth with ++ velocity and control.

      • Dropped Third

        Also true. I’m not saying I dislike the trade because I have always loved Pineda, however, if Montero can stick at catcher, he could bring an awful lot of cheap production from the backstop position.

        • Havok9120

          That, according to the Yankees, was a pretty huge “if.”

          All shall be revealed over the next year or two. If the non-contending Mariners can’t use him as a serviceable backstop, it’ll be hard for anyone (even here) to argue that we could have.

  • RetroRob

    My guess is at least two of those catchers will be off the market. Molina and perhaps Napoli. My gut feeling is Montero will decide to go to market, especially after he sees what Molina signs for.

    I think I mentioned last week that the Yankees may need to re-assess their policy on contracts in a new world order where they’re trying to hit a $189M payroll. In the past, letting a player reach free agency and paying top dollar didn’t seem to be a huge concern to the Yankees. Now they may need to start placing bets on certain players, and also locking up certain types of players before he can use the leverage of free agency to drive up price. Martin may not be all-world, but he’s the exact type of player who will benefit from free agency.

  • Preston

    If we offered Martin arbitration what kind of comps would we expect in return under the new rules? I like Martin a lot but I’m not willing to break the bank for him. Romine has a good chance at being a solid backstop and we have a lot of depth in the minors at C. Try to sign him for 3/30 if he decides to test the market offer him arb and take the picks. We can get by with Romine and Cervelli until one of our better prospects is ready to make an impact (or a better FA comes along for the right price).

    • Gonzo

      The offer would have to be a 1 year deal of the average of the top 125 paid players, around $12mm.

      If he declined the 1/12 offer, the Yankees would get a sandwich pick and the team that signs him highest pick not in the first round. Kinda the same as before.

      • Gonzo

        Meant to say highest pick not in the top 10 of the first round.

      • All Praise Be To Mo

        I’d be fine with him on a 1 year deal for 12mm next year to give Romine a full year breaking in at the MLB level and then let Martin walk before 2014 when we need to be under 189mm. Either that or he walks, we get an extra draft pick and I’m sure we can find a 1 year stopgap catcher if Romine isn’t ready next year and to give Sanchez another full year in the minors too.

        • Preston

          I’d definitely be willing to overpay for a one year deal. I don’t think he’d would or should take it though.

        • Havok9120

          Yes, I’d like it as well. Would make perfect sense for us. Almost none for him though…which is kind of why I like it.

          DRAFT PICKS! Wooooooo!!1!

  • Gonzo

    Anyone else remember the embarassment of riches the Yankees had a catcher just 1-2 years ago?

    I remember Mike saying, these things have a way of working out.

    • jsbrendog

      they did. his name is michael pineda. frankie cervelli is an average backup. they’re already ahead of the curve cause none of them have flamed out yet. if romine makes the majors and is even league average that is working out. hell, that’s a huge win

      • Gonzo

        I never said it didn’t work out. Just pointing out the folly of people looking years ahead.

    • Steve (different one)

      They still have, maybe not an embarrassment, but certainly a LOT of catching talent.

      • Gonzo

        I think my post lost something in the translation based on the two responses so far.

        • jsbrendog

          baxter, you know i dont speak spanish

          • Gonzo

            Bingo

  • Rich in NJ

    There is no way I would give Martin a three year contract right now. Too much injury risk, too much offensive uncertainty.

    • Preston

      I would have given him three years if the first year of the contract replaced his current contract. If he has one more healthy, productive season I’d be willing to go three more.

      • Rich in NJ

        I prefer the other Montero or Napoli.

  • Ro

    A bit late to chime in on this one, but there are several factors which other commenters may have addressed, but wanted to mention;

    1) Swisher is a free agent. Both Cano and Granderson have options. I believe that Cashman is gauging which of the three plus Martin have good seasons. It’s safe to assume that regardless of Cano’s 2012 performance, his option is a dead lock to be picked up. The same may not be true for Granderson, however I do believe he’ll be back. I wonder if Cashman is just being prudent by letting all contracts expire and let the season to play out. Let’s keep in mind this is the first time in nearly a decade that the Yankees are spending less than $10mm for the season for a catcher. Worthy of breather. While it may appear the Yanks could save a little right now (maybe $4mm-$10mm total value), by waiting Cashman will have a much better idea of the team going forward. Savings is great, but I’d rather pay a little more later in this case. It is only his 2nd year.

    2) Molina’s contract is part “retaining one of their best hitters” part “holy shit we really need some good PR right now” by retaining a fan favorite. Call it the well “I guess we’ll pay you like Jeter” syndrome. My guess Molina has the Cards by the balls and they CANNOT afford to risk or worse lose Molina, especially a year after being crowned the top team. If you’ve ever thought what its like to have your balls in a vice grip, this is exactly that very moment for the Cards. It’s very unlikely any team would top $50mm on the open market for Molina. Quite frankly, I’m very surprised by the amount of dollars and years. I think 4 and $52mm would have been far more appropriate.

    • Tom

      I think both the Cano and Granderson options are locks – none of that effects 2014. Unless the Yankees did a Pineda like deal for an OF (and resign Swisher) why would they not pick up Granderson’s option for 2013?

      Whether Granderson is re-signed beyond that seems dependent on the Swisher and Martin decisions next offseason.
      - If they sign both I see them letting Granderson walk and shifting Garnder to CF while looking for a cheap corner OF option if they are serious about getting under the 189mil. (especially if Williams continues to develop in the minors and looks like the CF’r of the future)
      - If they sign just Martin or Swisher, I think it comes down to how much Cano gets… if he’s getting 20+, signing Grandeson may still be an issue even if they let Martin or Swisher walk