Paul asks: Word that the Yankees were exploring an extension for Russell Martin seems to go against their standard procedure. I can only remember Robinson Cano getting an extension. I think we can all agree that Martin, while a great guy and above average, is not in the same arena as Robbie. So are the Yankees changing their stance on extensions or do they really see Martin as worthy of an exception to the rule?
Brian Cashman put an end to all this Martin extension stuff yesterday, saying the two sides would not talk about a new deal until the end of the season. Rather than drag this out and answer and outdated question on Friday, I figured I’d get this one out of the way today so we can all move on.
The team’s policy is to wait until contracts expire to negotiate new deals, and that applies to players as well as management like Joe Girardi and Brian Cashman. Cano is the lone exception, signing a four year, $30M deal with two club options prior to the 2008 season. He was four years away from free agency at the time, but the Yankees ended up saving some serious dough because Robbie was a Super Two and would have been eligible for arbitration four times instead of three.
Martin is obviously not the player Cano is, plus he’s only one season away from free agency, not four. I think the team’s willingness to lock him up for the next few years has more to do with the state of catching that an particular affection for Martin. Quality catching is very hard to find, and although he’s no Johnny Bench, Russ is an above average hitter for the position and a very good defender. Above average catchers almost never hit the free agent market, especially on the right side of 30. Prior to Martin last winter — who was damaged goods because of the hip surgery — you have to go all the way back to Ramon Hernandez during the 2005-2006 offseason to find another free catcher that meets the criteria.
Mike Napoli, Miguel Montero, and Yadier Molina are all scheduled to become free agents after the season as well, so next winter has a chance to be the epiphany free agent class in terms of backstops. That said, I fully expect Molina to sign a contract extension before hitting the open market, and chances are Montero will as well. The Rangers have spoken openly about signing their core players long-term and have had extension talks with Napoli. All three guys would be upgrades over Martin, but none of the three are guaranteed to be available.
The Yankees have the option of sticking with what they have for the foreseeable future, or rolling the dice and hoping they could get someone better after the season. It’s risky, because they could be left either empty-handed or paying too much for someone and impacting that 2014 austerity budget. That three-year, $25-30M deal I keep throwing out there could turn into four guaranteed years in a hurry on the open market, especially if Jarrod Saltalamacchia posts another sub-.300 OBP up in Boston this year.
In my perfect world, they’d tear up Martin’s one-year deal for 2012 and hammer out a new three-year pact. Austin Romine would then spend this season playing regularly in Triple-A before easing into big league duty over the next two years with Martin as his caddy. Romine takes over full-time in 2015 and Martin heads elsewhere. Of course it’s not that simple, but like I said, that’s in my perfect world. Tabling talks until after the season is perfectly fine, but if they do intend to keep Martin beyond 2012, it would behoove them to avoid a bidding war on the open market. I think they realize this, which is why they hoped to sign him this offseason.