Heyman: Talks “heating up” between Yankees and Russell Martin

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.

email

King: Yankees have yet to make Martin an offer

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.

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.

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.