Feinsand: Talks “are ongoing” between Yankees and Martin

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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What Went Right: Russell Martin’s final 62 games

(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.

What Went Wrong: Russell Martin’s first 100 games

(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.

Mailbag: Grandy, Polanco, Soria, Madson, Martin

Six questions but only four answers this week, the first official mailbag of the 2012-2013 offseason. Remember to please use the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar for all ‘bag related correspondence.

(Elsa/Getty)

Anonymous asks: Should they decide to trade him, realistically what could the Yankees get for Curtis Granderson?

The Yankees officially exercised Granderson’s no-brainer $15M option earlier this week, and he’s due to become a free agent after next season. He’s hit .247/.337/.506 over the last three seasons and that seems like a decent approximation of his expected 2013 production. Maybe less if you really don’t like him and think strikeouts are the root of all evil. Granderson is a center fielder but not a good one, though he is definitely an above average player signed for one year.

Guys like that don’t get traded all that often, but we do have a decent sample over the last few years, most notably Matt Holliday, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Willingham, and Dan Uggla. Granderson is somewhere between Willingham (traded for two prospects, one being an MLB-ready reliever) and Gonzalez (three prospects, two being top 100 guys), which at least gives us a reference point rather than just guessing. He won’t fetch a Carlos Gonzalez type (like Holliday), but I think the Yankees could realistically demand two good prospects for Granderson in a trade. Two guys in a club’s top ten prospects list, for example. Preferably at least one of them would be an MLB-ready outfielder, of course.

Matt asks: What would you think about adding Placido Polanco as a back up utility guy to play the role that Chavez had?

Travis asks: Lets say the Tigers non-tender Ryan Raburn. Is he enough of a utility player for the Yankees? If he is, would he be an upgrade over Jayson Nix?

Might as well lump these two together. Polanco, 37, makes some sense as a backup corner infielder/emergency second baseman depending on his back. He’s missed a bunch of time these last few years with everything from inflammation to soreness to bulging discs. The Yankees would have to look him over really well during the physical. Polanco isn’t anything special on defense, has no power (.075 ISO last three years), no speed (only eight steals), and doesn’t walk (6.3 BB%), but he’s a contact machine who rarely strikes out (.281 AVG last three years with an 8.0 K%). The Yankees can use some of that, it just depends on whether they’re comfortable with his medicals and having a right-handed hitting corner infielder.

As for the 31-year-old Raburn, it would have to be a minor league contract only. I really liked him a few years ago, but he just hasn’t hit at all lately. He broke out with a .285/.348/.498 showing from 2009-2010 (.286/.373/.580 vs. LHP), but these last two years he’s hit just .226/.272/.370 overall (.232/.283/.397 vs. LHP) and been demoted to the minors. Raburn is far more versatile than Polanco, with lots of experience at second and in the outfield corners plus some time at third base as well, but he can’t hit. That 2009-2010 stuff is tantalizing, but I don’t think he’s better than Nix and I wouldn’t give him anything more than a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite.

(Norm Hall/Getty)

GB asks: I see that the options for Joakim Soria and Matt Lindstrom were declined. They seem like good targets to me. Your thoughts?

Lonnie asks: Do you see the Yanks making a play for Soria or Ryan Madson at low-cost deals to possibly close in 2014?

Gonna lump these two together as well, and yes, all three make perfect sense on short-term contracts. Obviously Soria and Madson are elite relievers coming off Tommy John surgery while Lindstrom is healthy and more of a middle reliever/setup man, but the Yankees need some bullpen help and all three offer it.

There isn’t a team in baseball that wouldn’t take Soria or Madson on a one-year, low-base salary, incentive-laden “prove yourself then go out and get that big contract next offseason” contract, but the Royals are talking about re-signing the former while the latter still wants a closing job. The 32-year-old Lindstrom is probably a bit underrated, pitching to a 2.84 ERA (3.24 FIP) in 101 innings over the last two years. He throws very hard but is more of a ground ball guy than a strikeout guy, plus he spent most of this season with the Orioles and has at least some AL East experience. I’d take any and all of these guys on a one-year pact.

Jeb asks: If Brian Cashman offers Russell Martin another 3/20 and he turns it down, would you give him a qualifying offer? Assuming $/fWAR holds and fWAR might not capture his defense, perhaps this is worth the risk?

I wouldn’t worry so much about the $/WAR stuff since the Yankees are on their own little planet there. They’re well beyond the point of diminishing returns, meaning every additional dollar they spend adds less and less in terms of wins. You can only win so many baseball games a year regardless of how much you spend. More money means more probability, not more wins.

Anyway, the catching market is atrocious and that goes double for this offseason. There are two legitimate starting catchers on the free agent market this offseason: Martin and A.J. Pierzynski. Mike Napoli has caught more than 80 games once in a his career (2009) and no more than 70 games in the last three years. Kelly Shoppach hasn’t caught more than 75 games since 2008. Pierzynski turns 36 in December and is coming off a career year, plus he was never anything great on defense and is a world-class asshole. Martin doesn’t hit for average but he draws walks, hits for power, and is a pretty good (if not great) defender. He’s also won’t turn 30 until February.

For most of the season it appeared as though Martin (and his agent) made a huge mistake by not taking that three-year, $20M-something extension last winter, but I bet he gets a similar deal this offseason. There are enough big market teams who need a catchers (Rangers, Red Sox, Yankees) and Russ hasn’t yet gotten into his mid-30s, when catchers usually turned into pumpkins. Hell, Chris Iannetta just signed a three-year, $15.55M extension with the Angels despite hitting .240/.332/.398 while missing a bunch of time due to injury this year, and he didn’t even go on the open market. Martin should be able to find the extra $8-10M out there. I don’t think the Yankees will make him a qualifying offer, but I think it would make some sense. Worst case is he accepts and you’ve got him on expensive one-year contract. Considering the general lack of quality catchers, overpaying Martin for a year is a luxury the Yankees can afford.

Martin, Teixeira, and Cano among Gold Glove finalists

Russell Martin, Mark Teixeira, and Robinson Cano have been announced as finalists for the Gold Glove Award at their respective positions. Martin is up against Alex Avila, Matt Wieters, and A.J. Pierzynski while Cano will compete with the Dustins — Pedroia and Ackley. Teixeira is up against Eric Hosmer and Adrian Gonzalez, who I assume won’t win since he was traded to the Dodgers in August.

I’m surprised Derek Jeter isn’t a finalist at shortstop considering how well he hit this year. Gold Gloves are more of a popularity contest than an actual measure of defensive excellence. Anyway, the awards will be announced tomorrow night.

Twelve Yankees hit free agency

A total of 137 players around the league officially hit free agency today, including a dozen Yankees: Eric Chavez, Pedro Feliciano, Freddy Garcia, Raul Ibanez, Andruw Jones, Hiroki Kuroda, Derek Lowe, Russell Martin, Andy Pettitte, Mariano Rivera, Ichiro Suzuki, and Nick Swisher. Rafael Soriano can join them if he opts out of his contract by Wednesday’s deadline, which seems likely. Feliciano’s inclusion in the list of free agents is an indication that the Yankees have already declined his $4.5M club option. That is not surprising at all after the left-hander threw zero meaningful pitches during his time in pinstripes.

Under the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, players don’t even have to file for free agency anymore. They just hit the open market. I never understood the point of that anyway. Players are free to sign with new teams starting Saturday. Click here for the full offseason schedule.

Cashman talks Martin, Ibanez

Via Kristie Ackert: Brian Cashman chimed in on the status of both Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez, two of the team’s impending free agents, during a recent radio interview. The Yankees and Cashman love what Martin brings to the table but “me liking him doesn’t guarantee us keeping him.” The backstop turned down a three-year, $20M-something extension offer last year and honestly I would not be surprised if he winds up with something like three years and $27M on the open market. There will be competition for him, specifically from the deep-pocketed Red Sox and Rangers.

Meanwhile, Cashman also seemed to indicate that a second tour of duty for Ibanez was unlikely. He said he was a great one-year signing who hit some massively huge homers, but his price went up and he won’t be as cost effective. The Yankees landed him at a discount last winter because of his poor 2011 season with the Phillies. Raul won’t ever have to buy himself dinner in New York again, but I would have no problem with the team bringing in someone else to DH. Ibanez is the kind of guy you want to get rid of a year too early rather than a year too late.