Archive for Russell Martin

This is quite annoying. According to Ken Rosenthal, Russell Martin informed the Yankees he was willing to sign a one-year contract worth $9-10M this past offseason. A one-year deal, of course, would have worked well with the team’s plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014 and not left them with the Chris Stewart/Frankie Cervelli tandem for 2013. The Yankees balked and Martin instead took a two-year pact from the Pirates. I love the Yankees, but I hate the way they do pretty much everything these days.

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Thoughts on a random Wednesday

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(Kevin C. Cox/Getty)

Baseball news is going to start to slow down in a day or two because of the holidays, and it won’t be until after the new year that things pick back up. Sure, there will be a move or three between Christmas and New Year’s, but GMs and agents and players tend to take it easy that week. Can’t really blame them, it’s a 24/7/365 profession and everyone needs a break at some point.

1. Now that R.A. Dickey has officially been traded to the Blue Jays, I sorta hate that I’m going to have to root against him. He was a blast to watch on the other side of town this season, and I don’t think he’ll have a ton of trouble switching leagues. Yes, the parks aren’t as friendly in the AL East, but he’ll still be well-above-average if not ace-caliber. Someone (I believe Bill Petti) has done recent research showing that the knuckleball removes some of the hitter’s skill from the equation in the pitcher-batter matchup, which would obviously serve Dickey well in the tougher league. The one real criticism I have of the Rays over the last few seasons is their unwillingness to make the big move to go for it, but we certainly can’t accuse the Blue Jays of that. The see an opening in the division and are going for it like hell.

2. So what changed about the Yankees’ evaluation of Russell Martin over the last 12 months? They offered him that three-year, $20M-something extension last offseason after the new Collective Bargaining Agreement (and incentives to get under the luxury tax) were in place, yet they wouldn’t go near the two-year, $17M deal he took from the Pirates a few weeks ago. Do they think his offense will continue to decline? That he’s not a safe bet to stay healthy the next two years given his big career workload? Is his defense not as good as advertised? The Yankees have passed on a ton of free agents over the years and for the most part you can understand why. With Martin, given the dearth of quality catching, it just makes no sense to pass on that price even with the 2014 payroll plan looming, especially since they were so willing to give Ichiro Suzuki two years. So weird.

Late Add: Forgot to include this in the original post, but isn’t Martin + Chris Dickerson > Chris Stewart/Austin Romine/Frankie Cervelli + Ichiro + $4M? Doesn’t that seem obvious?

(Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

3. This is worthy of a larger post later in the offseason, but is there a more important Yankees position player right now than Mark Teixeira? Given the offensive hits the team will take in right field and behind the plate (Derek Jeter is unlikely to hit .316/.362/.429 again as well), the Yankees badly need to Tex to halt his decline and get back to his 30+ homers, 125+ wRC+ ways. I’m not asking him to hit like he did from 2005-2009 (141 wRC+), but he needs to do better than a .332 OBP. Hopefully good health — remember, he had the cough and wrist issues in addition to the calf problem this past year — will help Teixeira improve his offense next season. The Yankees need him to be a middle of the lineup force again. It’s imperative.

4. Here’s the list of unsigned free agents; anyone in particular you want to see the Yankees sign before Spring Training? The big names are Michael Bourn and Scott Hairston and Shaun Marcum and A.J. Pierzynski and blah blah blah. I’m talking about someone off the beaten path, like infielder Ronny Cedeno (110 wRC+ vs. LHP in 2012) for the bench or right-hander Matt Lindstrom (2.85 ERA and 3.24 ERA from 2011-2012) for the bullpen. I’d love to see right-hander Tim Stauffer (3.15 ERA and 3.72 FIP from 2010-2011 before elbow surgery in 2012) on a minor league deal to stash in Triple-A for rotation depth. Any irrational favorites?

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Not from today, but basically the same thing. (Seth Wenig / AP Photo)

All 30 managers meet with the media for 30-ish minutes during the Winter Meetings, and Joe Girardi held his Q&A session late this afternoon. It’s pretty typical of Yankees people to speak a lot of words but not actually say much, and this was no different. I don’t have the audio to share because the quality is awful, but here’s a recap…

On Alex Rodriguez‘s injury

  • Girardi confirmed what Brian Cashman said yesterday, that A-Rod didn’t say anything about his hip until being pinch-hit for in Game Three of the ALCS. “His hips weren’t firing right. It wasn’t pain but he felt it was not the explosiveness … I was somewhat worried because he’d been through it on his right hip and you’d think he’d know what the feeling was like. It wasn’t firing the way he thought.”
  • A-Rod went for an MRI on his right hip after the game, and when it came back clean Girardi kept playing him. He did acknowledge Alex “did look different than he did before he got hurt.” The team doesn’t know exactly when the injury happened.
  • On losing A-Rod for the first half of next year: “It’s big. You go into an offseason and you feel you have to address certain areas and all of a sudden you get a little bit of a surprise. It’s a pretty big hole to fill, and it may not necessarily be (filled) with one person.”
  • “I’m not sure,” said the skipper when asked about any tension in his relationship with A-Rod. “It probably answers a lot of questions — he wasn’t the Alex we saw before the injury. Now we have a reason, possibly why.”

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9:54pm: The Yankees told Martin they didn’t have the cash to match Pittsburgh’s offer according to Waldstein. That’s rich.

9:07pm: Buster Olney says the Yankees never did make an offer, so I guess they just discussed a two-year deal worth $12-14M. The team hasn’t made any offers to any free agent position players this winter.

8:40pm: David Waldstein says it’s a two-year, $17M deal. Hard to believe the Yankees didn’t match that. Jon Heyman says they only offered two years at $12-14M.

8:29pm: The Yankees will have a new starting catcher next season. Ken Rosenthal reports that Russell Martin has agreed to sign with the Pirates, though the contract terms are unknown. The Pittsburgh Pirates outbid the New York Yankees for a free agent. Ain’t that something.

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Via Andrew Marchand: Russell Martin is seeking a four-year contract worth $9-10M annually. There’s zero chance the Yankees would go that far, but Ken Rosenthal says the Rangers, Pirates, and Mariners are also involved.

Of course, Martin wanting a four-year, $40M deal is akin to Nick Swisher wanting a Jayson Werth-like contract. They’re not going to get it if they don’t ask, so might as well start with that and negotiate down. I think it’s more likely that someone will offer Martin four years than Swisher finding seven years, but again, there’s no way the Yankees would do that. I like Russ, but not that much.

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Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees are “back in discussions” with free agent catcher Russell Martin, and talks are said to be “heating up.” The two sides were far apart on dollars a few days ago, but Heyman says they made progress over the weekend.

Martin, 29, is apparently waiting to hear New York’s pitch before getting involved with other teams according to George King, which Ichiro Suzuki is doing as well. Agent Matt Colleran confirmed to Dan Martin that his client has received multiple offers though, including one from the Yankees. As one of the few legitimate starting backstops on the free agent market, Martin figures to draw plenty of interest from other catching-starved clubs like the Rangers, White Sox, and maybe even the Rays. Oh, and in case you hadn’t heard, he might play shortstop for Team Canada in the upcoming World Baseball Classic.

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Via George King: The Yankees have yet to make an offer to Russell Martin, and they’re likely to focus on re-signing Andy Pettitte and Mariano Rivera first. Ken Rosenthal notes that the free agent catching market has stalled because the Blue Jays and Red Sox are shopping J.P. Arencibia and Jarrod Saltalamacchia, respectively.

Martin, 29, hit .211/.311/.403 (95 wRC+) with a career-high 21 homers this year. The free agent catching market is very weak, with Martin and A.J. Pierzynski representing the only true everyday catchers. The Yankees reportedly have interest in Mike Napoli, but a) calling him an everyday catcher is a stretch, and b) I think that’s just an example of the team trying to drive up the price for the Red Sox. He doesn’t really fit with New York as a half-time first baseman/half-time DH. Given the general wackiness of the market so far, it’s very likely Martin will get three years in the $24-30M range.

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Via Mark Feinsand: Talks between the Yankees and Russell Martin about a new contract “are ongoing” according to Matt Colleran, the catcher’s agent. “The process is going to determine the time frame (for signing),” said Colleran, who acknowledged talking to at least a half-dozen teams at last week’s GM Meetings.. “He loved everything about New York and he still does. With the ability to talk to other teams, now it’s all part of the process. Once he has all his info, he’ll decide what he wants to do.”

Martin, 29, hit .211/.311/.403 (95 wRC+) with a career-high 21 homers last season, including a 139 wRC+ against lefties. The Yankees clearly value his defensive skills — particularly his pitch-framing ability, it seems — and toughness, enough that they offered him a three-year, $20M-something contract extension last offseason. He turned that down and I think he’s totally going to wind up signing a similar contract anyway. The free agent catching market is a wasteland.

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(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

As we discussed earlier, Russell Martin‘s first 100 games of the season were a nightmare offensively. He hit .182/.300/.364 in his first 283 plate appearances and the Yankees were sliding in the standings. The trade deadline brought no catching help, so any improvement down the stretch was going to have to come from Martin himself. It was easy to have no confidence in him.

Instead of continued to falter, Russ turned things around. He went 2-for-2 with a homer and two walks in Game 101 and 8-for-22 (.364) with four walks in the next seven games. He doubled in his next game, homered a week after that, and homered again a few days later. On September 5th, the team’s 136th game of the season, Martin went 2-for-4 with a double and a homer to raise his season battling line to .202/.305/.376. It was very late in the season, but he was above the Mendoza Line for good.

Along with deadline pickup Ichiro Suzuki, Martin was arguably the Yankees’ very best hitter in the final month of the season. He hit .277/.355/.578 with seven homers in the club’s final 28 games of the year, including .375/.500/1.000 (!) with runners in scoring position. Russ hit walk-off homer against the Athletics (video) on September 21st, and three of those seven homers either tied the game or gave the Yankees the lead. Martin didn’t hit a lick in the postseason like most of his teammates, but he did hit the game-winning homer off Jim Johnson in Game One of the ALDS. That was enormous.

Despite all those late-season homers, the 62-game hot streak to close the season was fueled by a BABIP return to normalcy…

As I wrote this morning, you would expect Martin to have a low-ish BABIP because of the type of hitter he is, but anything below .200 is venturing into massively unlikely territory for any player. He enjoyed a .271 BABIP in the final 62 games of the season, which is right around his true talent level based on recent years. That raised his season line up to  .211/.311/.403, a 95 wRC+ that was a bit below the league average overall but actually identical to the MLB average for the position. Catchers get a little slack.

If there’s one thing we learned about Martin offensively these last two years, it’s that he can be very streaky. The downs are longer and more frequent than the ups, but the ups are power-filled stretches with a lot of clutch hits. Martin always seems to put quality at-bats together as well, even when he’s struggling, and he never seems to take his problems with the bat out to the field defensively. He’s no Jorge Posada, especially at the plate, but Russ has been serviceable if not solid for the Yankees at the catcher position these last two years and especially down the stretch in 2012.

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(Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

For more than a decade, Yankees fans were very spoiled by Jorge Posada. The switch-hitting backstop was a premium offensive catcher who more than made up for his shoddy defense with his bat. A borderline Hall of Famer, Posada hit .288/.381/.497 from 2006-2010, his age 34-38 seasons. Catchers are supposed to turn into pumpkins at that age. The Yankees replaced Jorge behind the plate with free agent pickup Russell Martin last year, and he had a solid first year in pinstripes. Year two was not as kind.

Martin, 29, spent the vast majority of the season below the Mendoza line. He went deep just four times in the team’s first 50 games, so the power wasn’t there either. The only thing that kept Russ from being a total drain on the offense was his plate discipline, which allowed him the draw nine walks in the team’s first nine games and 22 walks in the first 50 games. Immediately prior to the All-Star break, Martin battled through an ugly 0-for-30 slump. He snapped out of it with a double in his second to last at-bat before the break.

Russ carried a hideous .178/.300/.348 batting line into the second half, which was awful production even considering the low standards at the position. Martin was solid on defense as always, but the Yankees thrive on getting above-average production from up-the-middle positions and he certainly wasn’t providing it. After all the years of enjoying Posada’s offense, fans were annoyed and hoping the club would bring in some catching help at the trade deadline. Instead, none came.

(AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Yankees stuck with Martin in part because they love his defense, but also because the rest of the lineup was strong enough to carry his noodle bat at the bottom of the lineup. His second half started decently, with two homers in his first six games and three homers in his first 11 games, but on July 28th, the date of New York’s 100th game of the season, Martin was hitting just .182/.300/.364 in 283 plate appearances. Add in the fact that he hit just .223/.311/.362 in his final 410 plate appearances of last season, all of the good will he built up in April 2011 was gone. It looked like a mirage.

Now, no matter how much you may dislike a player, I think we can all agree it’s unlikely that someone with Martin’s track record had suddenly transformed into a true talent sub-Mendoza Line hitter. It’s certainly possible, but it seems unlikely. He was still drawing walks (12.4%) and he wasn’t striking out a ton (19.1%) during those first 100 games, so it wasn’t like he was completely overmatched at the plate. Martin did, however, put up a measly .186 BABIP during that stretch, which is so extreme that bad luck absolutely played a part. He isn’t fleet of foot and he does hit a lot of weak ground balls, which is conducive to a low BABIP, but not that low.

The question for the Yankees became this: when will Martin’s luck turn around? It wasn’t guaranteed to happen in 2012. It’s also worth noting that an extremely low BABIP like won’t necessarily be met with an extremely high BABIP when it does correct either. He could have just produced to his true talent level — he had a .275 BABIP in over 1,400 plate appearances from 2009-2011 — and that might not have been good enough to help the team either. Given the lack of deadline activity, the Yankees had faith in their catcher’s ability to maybe not turn things all the way around, but at least contribute more than he had been down the stretch,

Martin did have a signature moment or two in the first half the season — the walk-off homer against the Mets (video) or the game-winning single against the Angels (video) for example — but for the most part he was a non-factor at the plate. With those 100 ugly games under his belt, his season batting line was beyond saving. The Yankees were watching the Orioles draw closer as the division race got tight at this point of the season, and their starting catcher’s lack of production was a big reason why.

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