First Pitch: Bringing Back Russell Martin Needs to Be a Top Priority

Last off-season was filled with a lot of drama surrounding A.J. Burnett, qualifying offers, and the Pittsburgh Pirates approach with free agency and the percentage that individual players take up on the team payroll.

Prepare for act two this coming off-season.

The Pirates will go through the same situation again with Russell Martin. To be accurate, it won’t be the exact situation. There won’t be a chance of Martin saying that he’s either going to play for the Pirates or retire, then debate his future for months, then decide he will play for a team other than the Pirates. This will be a pretty straight forward situation — the Pirates have a good player leaving for free agency, and he’ll be looking for his final big payday.

Burnett wasn’t signed last year, and I was fine with that. The Pirates had some good pitching depth, and they’ve shown a good ability to find value when it comes to pitchers. As it turns out, not signing Burnett hasn’t hurt them at all. He would currently be the sixth best starter on the team, based on xFIP. The Pirates have seen their depth step up, but Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole haven’t pitched like aces. If Burnett was on the team, he’d be joining those two as a guy who has disappointed by pitching below his previous levels.

It won’t be the same situation with Martin. The Pirates don’t have a track record of landing catchers at a big value. Martin was the first big success story, and that happened because they paid him for his defense, when no one else would pay more than $8.5 M a year because of his declining offense. The offense has picked up this year, but even without the offense, Martin is worth every penny for his defensive skills.

We might be reaching a point where the defense for a guy like Martin starts to get appreciated. There are already some teams who are putting a lot of stock into pitch framing, and the Pirates are one of them. Baseball Prospectus has been following that trend very closely, to the point where they’ve put a number on the value of each catcher’s skills. Based on that study, Martin’s pitch framing and blocking skills are worth at least two extra wins alone each year.

The upcoming off-season will give us a great idea about how the league values defense behind the plate just two years after the Pirates signed Martin. Brian McCann got $17 M per year this past off-season, although he had offensive skills that Martin hasn’t shown on a consistent basis the last few years. If McCann is worth that much, then Martin should be worth at least the qualifying offer amount — if teams are valuing his defense correctly. If not, then he might be a bigger value at a lower price. He wanted $9-10 M for four years before taking two years and $17 M from the Pirates. He’s probably going to get that $9-10 M figure this time around, if not more.

The Pirates need to bring back Martin. That has to be priority number one. You can justify them passing on a guy like Burnett, and not spending big on pitching because of the success Ray Searage and Jim Benedict have had working with reclamation projects. But Martin has so much value to this team. Every time I’m editing an article on this site that features a quote from a Pirates’ pitcher, it includes a comment about Martin that only illustrates his value. These aren’t your standard quotes to give the catcher praise, but offering up specifics on how Martin makes them more comfortable throwing their stuff, and how he makes his game plan specific to the pitcher and not the batter.

If you look at the upcoming list of free agent catchers (via MLBTR), you’ll see a pretty bleak list outside of Martin.

John Buck (34)
Ryan Doumit (34)
Nick Hundley (31) – $5MM club option
Gerald Laird (35)
Russell Martin (32)
Jeff Mathis (32) – $1.5MM club option
Wil Nieves (36)
Miguel Olivo (36)
A.J. Pierzynski (38)
David Ross (38)
Geovany Soto (32)
Kurt Suzuki (31)

There’s not really much available, especially when you look at the pitch framing skills and see that no one can touch Martin’s value.

Then you look at the internal situation. Tony Sanchez isn’t looking like a starting catcher. His defense, and specifically his throwing, has been too inconsistent. This was supposed to be a year where he showed he would be able to take over for Martin. He hasn’t done that, and we’re now seeing the importance of bringing Martin back. It’s possible that Sanchez could be a starter in a year or two. It’s possible that Elias Diaz could be a sleeper starter in a few years. The Pirates need someone before these things possibly happen, and that someone should be Martin.

The benefit here is that so much of Martin’s value comes from his defense, and that’s not a skill that projects to decline in the next few years. The Pirates could bring him back on a three-year deal, and hopefully bridge the gap until Reese McGuire is ready to arrive.

I don’t put much stock in the public comments that were made about the A.J. Burnett situation, whether it was the resistance to make a qualifying offer, or the comments about one player taking up X percentage of the payroll. I think the Pirates just felt they didn’t have to pay that much for Burnett. When it comes to Martin, all of that should be thrown out the window. Martin can take up a large chunk of the payroll, because he plays such a large part on the team. If needed, he should receive a qualifying offer, because the Pirates either need to be aggressive in bringing him back, or need to get some sort of compensation if he leaves. This past year they missed out on James Loney because they didn’t want to give him a three-year contract. If that’s what it takes with Martin, then sign him up for three years.

The Pirates have often looked for value on the open market. But a lot of that comes from the pitching side. When it comes to hitters, they’ve paid prices that were considered above the market rate. That includes Martin, as the Pirates out-bid the Yankees by a few million to get him. This usually happens when they value something about the player much more than other teams, as they did with Martin’s defense last time around. We’ll see how the rest of the league has adjusted this time around. They’ve acted fast with offensive signings, making an aggressive offer early, before other teams can get heavily involved. That needs to be the case again this off-season with Martin, or preferably sooner.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Big Night For West Virginia Hitters; Horrible Night For Bradenton Hitters

**Top 10 Pitchers: Sampson, Cumpton, Glasnow, and a Pitcher You Should Learn About

**Pirates Had a Scout Watching A.J. Burnett’s Last Start

**Prospect Highlights: Amazing Catch By Center Fielder Chase d’Arnaud

**Minor League Schedule: Tyler Glasnow Takes His Show on the Road

  • lonleylibertarian
    July 22, 2014 5:38 pm

    I would LOVE to see Russell Martin in a Pirate uniform next year – I believe that…
    1. He was the difference in getting the Bucs to a winning season and in the playoffs last year.
    2. He is the reason they have a chance to do the same thing this year.

    That being said I also believe….
    3. Martin will be offered a LOT of money in the offseason – at 31 I would not be shocked to see a $100M contract come his way – for six years.
    4. That the Pirates won’t be anywhere close to either the total or the years.

    Hopefully the Bucs will at least make him the QO – I’d be really happy if he signed it and played one more year – but they should at least get a draft pick out of the deal.

    PS. I also believe that the team who signs him will grossly overpay – the first 2-3 years of the contract will be OK – but the back end will be Soriano bad IMHO…

  • Give him a blank check and let him fill it out. Boom!

  • pilbobuggins
    July 22, 2014 2:36 pm

    As I have said many times,if there is one player the fo would overpay to keep it would be martin,they overpayed to get him and they will overpay to keep him. I’d like to see a 2 year deal,if it takes three then it takes three. I understand they have a budget,sometimes you have to spend a little more to get something you don’t have or need to keep,like a gold glove catcher or a solid veteran pitcher. ( not burnett,kennedy)

    • lonleylibertarian
      July 22, 2014 5:46 pm

      You do understand that Martin is NOT the best catcher in the Division right?
      He is behind Molina defensively – and barely ahead of Lucroy and Lucroy is a much better offensive player.

  • The Pirates have a pipeline oriented system, they are not going to spend big money on Martin, no way, no how. They developed Sanchez and they will use him until he shows them he can’t do the job, at this point in time, they think he can do the job. They can resign Stewart at a reasonable price to backup Sanchez as a security blanket, that should drive Pirate nation nuts.
    The Reds stuck with Mesoraco and his ineptness when he came up, now they have a solid all-star caliber catcher, you have to give these young catchers time to mature.
    I can imagine the panic throughout the Pirate universe if something happens to Martin this year.

    • Ha! The Reds jerked around Mesoraco for years giving starts to aging veterans, and Mesoraco is in another class of prospect to begin with.

  • Martin’s contract will not look acceptable when he is hitting .210 without power and his defense has declined to a significant degree. His defensive value in 2013 was the best of his career. He’s unlikely to equal or better it in the future. The issue, then, is this: Will 2016 Martin be better than 2016 Sanchez/Diaz when assessed according the WAR they would produce that year? A case has to be made for that given the money the Pirates would need to spend to keep Martin on the roster.

    • “A case has to be made for that given the money the Pirates would need to spend to keep Martin on the roster.”
      You’re almost never going to find a free agent contract palatable if only looking at the final year(s), because that’s an incomplete analysis. Right or wrong, contracts aren’t structured by value. Cheapest years are almost always at the beginning, when value is almost always highest. WAR has to be assessed over the life of the contract, and even then none of us know the dollar value the Pirates place on a win.

      • “You’re almost never going to find a free agent contract palatable if only looking at the final year(s),”

        This is a point supporting the belief that the Pirates should not sign Martin to a contract longer than a year or two. If the Pirates had a large quantity of money to allocate to their player contracts, more than enough to cover mistakes they make, then a longer-term Martin contract would not be a problem. But they lack this money. Thus….

        • The Pittsburgh Pirates are not broke.

          • I didn’t claim they were broke. Nor did I imply they were from what I wrote.

          • lonleylibertarian
            July 22, 2014 5:47 pm

            Nope – but there are ski resorts to maintain and buy 😉

        • Actually, I don’t care about value in that 3rd season. The Pirates very, very much need a strong catcher the next 2 seasons. If he declines, or if someone else is ready in 2017, trade Martin then.

          • There are two kinds of value here: Baseball value and economic value. With better players, the Pirates will commit more money to fielding a team than they did not long ago. That means they will confront budget constraints. They just cannot afford to waste money to move players to another team. They can’t just eat a ten million dollar contract. A “whatever it takes” attitude will not work.

  • Thanks Tim. I think the ‘facts’ we know so far are:

    1) The Pirates are much better with Russell Martin than without him.
    2) He is plus defensively (more throwing IMHO than ‘framing’) and more importantly…
    3) is a team leader.
    4) Pirates FO (NH and FC) have both publicly stated they’d love to re-sign Martin.
    5) The money is there, for sure, without sacrifice, in 2015.

    The key is what the Pirates’ projections are for 2016, 2017 in terms of payroll (raises or extensions for the young core (Polanco, Walker, Cole?), PLUS FA needs at 1B, 3B, possibly pitching) and whether they can fit Russell’s salary in for those years. To me, that is what it has to come down to…not possibly ‘overpaying’ for his production, or decline getting them in the last year of the deal, etc.

    IF there is any player that conventional wisdom (Nutting is cheap, no way will the Bucs sign Martin) is WRONG it is Martin. NH and FC have already shown they will stretch for this position, a strong defensive catcher is integral to their entire plan.

    Will it happen? No idea. If it doesn’t it hopefully is because our money is needed elsewhere in 2016/2017 and we can’t make it work, not because of some stubborn internal value metric. I think a front-end loaded deal makes a lot of sense.

    • What’s up, cmat?
      I really like what the Cards did with Jhonny Peralta’s contract last winter. Been worth every bit of the front-loaded value. I think you’re also absolutely right regarding future payroll. IMO, as I alluded to above, I think this is probably what scared NH off of giving 3+ years to James Loney. However, I think they do value positions up the middle greater than the corners which makes Martin a priority.

      • Hey NMR, good to be back-and-forthing with you. If there is ONE thing we can predict of NH, is that he sticks to his plan. He believes HUGELY in the importance of the catcher and if ever we are gonna see this group stretch the resources it will be with Martin. It can be done, especially with front loading when the money is there and easing the strain as we try to get the extensions done. With a lower cost and highly productive outfield, and a rotation that looks to be stocked with blue-chip youngsters, where else should the Pirates splurge if not Martin?

  • I’m not sure we can say that not signing AJ Burnett hasn’t hurt the Pirates at all. How many of the pitchers above AJ on that xFIP rank have been in the rotation since opening day? 3: Cole, Liriano, Morton.

    You’re putting pitchers with very limited (Worley) or limited (Locke) sample sizes ahead of him as if they’ve been providing value for the full season as AJ would’ve (Phillies IP leader with 136.2). In reality the starters behind AJ in xFIP (Volquez / Cumpton) have 172.2 combined innings to Locke / Worley’s combined 96.2 innings.

    In addition Cole and Liriano have missed significant time. I think that AJ would’ve added some much needed stability.

    • One other comment… Liriano’s xFIP is very misleading in my opinion. He has a 1.48 whip and just assuming he should’ve given up less homeruns (which i believe is the difference between his FIP and xFIP) might be a bit generous.

      If you compare ERA and FIP, AJ has been the better pitcher than Liriano.

      • pilbobuggins
        July 22, 2014 2:46 pm

        Numbers are a great tool,if however at the end of the game they don’t add up to a win ( for the team) tthey are worthless.

    • pilbobuggins
      July 22, 2014 2:44 pm

      I agree, aj would have added stability to a shaky rotation, however there is a better option available right now for less money and a little cheaper in prospects, I mean kennedy. Either way the lack of veteran leadership on this rotation has been apparent all year and is something that needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

  • I think the Bucs should make an aggressive offer (non-lowball) for 3 years with a team option for a fourth (with low buyout). And if Martin wants to go FA, then give him the QO and if he accepts, go all-in for 2015 on the FA market. If he declines… well, I don’t want to think about that because it’s not going to be good.

    I’m of the camp that umps will adjust to pitch framing and it’s an inexact stat as far as the catcher’s direct help. I think Martin’s value is more handling of pitchers and being a goalie for all those buried breaking balls. Martin is currently co-leader in Defensive Runs Saved with +8.

    I think it was last night that Walk was discussing “stolen strikes” (balls out of strike zone called strikes). MLB average is 6.2% or 6.4% and Bucs are 0.2 over average.

    Just spitballing on an average NL game being 130 pitches, 40% balls, that 0.2 advantage is probably less than one strike a week. 16-20 additional strikes over the course of a season. IMO, not a lot to get excited about.

    The leader, surprisingly to me, was the Mariners with more than 8%, who started with John Buck (later released) and have primarily used Mike Zunino (who offers Yankees-era Martin offense – no average, decent power). Their current backup catcher has only played 3 games. A full 2% over league average would be a difference of about one strike per game, or around 160 additional strikes per season. Now that figure is impressive, especially since Zunino is only 23. Then again, it could be that Buck contributed significantly to that figure as he started about 1/4 of Mariners games.

    But even considering that, both Zunino and Buck have negative DRS values, so how important is pitch framing really if you’re not good at blocking passed balls or throwing out base stealers?

    • Agree and disagree.
      The other half of pitch framing left out of your quick math are the strikes that umpires call balls. And frankly, I don’t think umpires are anywhere close to good enough to adjust. Framing isn’t anything new. Catchers have been doing this for as long as I’ve watched the game.
      I do agree, though, that the win values placed on framing are most likely pretty far off in a practical sense. There’s something like a +/- 4 win gap between the best and worst framers. Four wins, from just one skill. Roughly the equivalent of a full season worth of Starling Marte. Does that make sense?

      • I think we can quibble with the linear weights – it does seem out of whack that the difference between a true ball called a strike and a true strike called a ball on a 0-0 count is 1/6 of a run – but the sheer number of pitches received over the course of a season – take 10-15 pitches per game that were either balls called strikes or strikes called balls – means there’s plenty of opportunity to rack up positive or negative value, whatever the increment. Even if the weights are off by a factor of 2, that’s still a $12M difference between an elite catcher and a poor one on pitch framing alone.

      • I thought the spread in talent was more like 3 Wins, so +/- 1.5, I could be wrong.

        • I’ll defer to you on these matters, as always.

        • Through the first (roughly) 100 games of the season, the difference between Montero and Suzuki is 37.6 runs. If that holds, it’s actually as much as a 5.5 win swing.

          Again, I just don’t buy that it’s this extreme. But I think over the course of a season it isn’t reasonable to assume that there is a +/- 10 run difference between good framers and bad, so I applied $6M/WAR to that.

      • pilbobuggins
        July 22, 2014 2:54 pm

        I agree, that catchers have been pitch framing forever. With that in mind here’s a little food for thought. All of these so called NEW stats have been used by coaches and front offices for years,just because the fans are just now finding out about them does not make them new.

    • Also, the number of pitches outside the zone that are called strikes is not strictly based on catcher framing. Maybe it’s just the particular umpire (wonder if they have stats on that), or it could be that a guy like Felix Hernandez gets more strikes because of his reputation. Back when the 90s Braves were beating the Pirates in the playoffs, their starting pitchers had larger strike zones than other pitchers. It is a simple fact

      • pilbobuggins
        July 22, 2014 2:50 pm

        It’s been my opinion for a long time that umpires have way to much leeway when it comes to calling balls and strikes. Needs to be a lot more consistency from one ump to the next.

  • You’re not a sabermetrics guy, but you do understand xFIP better than Tim does.
    If you’re judging past performance, FIP (advanced) and ERA (traditional) should always be used. Projecting future performance is when xFIP and SIERA come in handy.

    • I fully understand xFIP. Based on your comments, I really don’t think you understand it.

      • In that case, go ahead an explain why FIP and not xFIP is used to calculate WAR. I’ll be waiting.

        • Have fun waiting.

          • Care to tell us all again how Ernesto Frieri was just “unlucky” because teh xFIP? Yeah, you have a crystal clear understanding.

            • Yes. I said that he wouldn’t continue with a 21% HR/FB rate, which is what xFIP indicated. So far with the Pirates: 12.5%.

              However, he hasn’t been striking out as many people in his limited time with the Pirates, and walks are up. As a result, his xFIP in his very limited time with the Pirates is 4.17, which is a run higher than his xFIP with the Angels.

              The homers will continue to stay down in the current range or lower. The “unlucky” stuff you keep bringing up is in reference to the HR/FB ratio, which is what xFIP normalizes.

              • Except that home runs, along with walks and strikeouts, are something a pitcher absolutely can control. Yes, HR/FB rate has a tendency to normalize, similar to BABIP. But Frieri wasn’t “unlucky” in giving them up, just like high popup hitters aren’t “unlucky” posting low BABIP’s.
                If he was just “unlucky”, why are the Pirates working on mechanics right now?

                • So Frieri wasn’t unlucky giving up a 21% HR/FB rate? This all despite the fact that he has a career 10% rate, and despite the fact that he comes to the Pirates and the HR/FB rate immediately goes down, well before any mechanical adjustments could be implemented. Right.

                  • Can we at least agree that any ERA estimator is going to be pretty flawed for a relief pitcher, especially mid-season? We’re talking about 31 innings with the Angels and all of 6 innings with the Bucs. That would be like drawing conclusions on a starting pitcher after one start. Frieri could give up a HR on his next pitch and the HR/FB rate would go back up to 22.2%.

                    I think NMR’s point on Frieri is the high HR/FB rate isn’t luck, it’s the consequence of his having a diminished arsenal, specifically the 4-seamer. Wandy wasn’t “unlucky” either – his 25.6% HR/FB was a consequence of the super-hittability of his FB, which (probably) is a result of his knee injury.

                  • Tim, you yourself have written that the current version of Ernesto Frieri is not the same as the old version of Ernesto Frieri. There has been a change in skill, and that change has resulted in giving up more hard contact. Hard contact against fly ball pitchers is going to results in home runs. This is called physics.
                    If you believe that Ernesto Frieri’s HR/FB rate immediately dropped to 12.5% upon being traded to the Pirates, thus choosing a 6 IP sample over the last TWO YEARS where his HR rate has been elevated around 20%, then that is certainly your choice.

                    • His HR/FB rate last year was 11.8%. So it’s not two years. The 20% is only in 31 innings this year.

                      I’m not choosing a 6 IP sample. I’m saying the 31 IP sample isn’t reflective of what he usually does.

                    • Thanks for the correction, Tim. You still haven’t addressed the fact that you’ve previously admitted that the pitcher he is right now isn’t the pitcher he previously has been.
                      You’re essentially playing the game on paper, without accounting for actual change in skill.

                    • I’m now to the point where I have no idea what you’re even talking about. I don’t even know what comment of mine you’re referencing. I had to click over from the e-mail to see the conversation just to make sure I knew what player we were talking about, because somehow you’ve debated everything but Russell Martin in this exchange, which takes place in a Russell Martin article.

                      If you want to discuss this article, go ahead. If you want to discuss something I said in another article on another subject, comment in that article and I’ll respond. Otherwise I have to do a bunch of research just to guess what the hell you’re talking about, and I don’t have time for that.

                    • Haha, you’re precious, Tim. Read the Book.

                    • Still not making sense.

        • FIP is used because it measures what did happen, you don’t want to use a stats like xFIP (which has a normalized HR rate) in a statistic like WAR which measures what did happen in the past. xFIP is superior when trying to predict what will happen in the future because it corrects for abnormal HR rates (like Frieri’s).

  • If we go by ERA, then the list is:

    1. Vance Worley – 3.03
    2. Jeff Locke – 3.05
    3. Charlie Morton – 3.28
    4. Gerrit Cole – 3.78
    5. Edinson Volquez – 3.92
    6. A.J. Burnett – 4.08
    7. Francisco Liriano – 4.43
    8. Brandon Cumpton – 4.98

    So he’s 6th there as well, although the xFIP numbers give a better read on the talent of the pitching staff, since I don’t think Worley is the best pitcher on the team. No matter what metric you use, Burnett is not an upgrade over what the Pirates currently have.

  • Question for the group: Can you sell a player? I don’t hate Pedro but I’m going to use him as an example of what I’m talking about. Pedro is most likely un-signable after arb years. Let’s say he lights it up with the bat down the stretch and even into the playoffs. Instead of the usual trade-for-prospect proposal, could we sell him to a big market team that has a chance to keep him for (arbitrarily) $60 mil. Then use that money toward contracts for say Martin, Polanco, Harrison, Walker… Given what big market clubs will pay for overseas players, I thought that a Pedro auction might be an interesting possibility.

    • Good idea, but no, at least not in a speculative manner as your hypothetical proposes.
      A team can trade a player and accept cash in return, but only up to the amount of his remaining contract.

      • Thank you. I always wondered why that possibility was never pursued by small market builders and money-grubbing misers.

  • well… if they don’t sign him and instead go with Sanchez… they had better spend some serious cash somewhere else.

    If it’s Sanchez at catcher, I had better see James Shields as the opening starter.

    That said, i truly believe that they’re going to re-sign Russ. The only thing that they’ve proven in free agency is that they will fill their desperate positions. Unless they truly truly believe in tony sanchez, they will bring back russ.

    I love their approach of finding value. But the goal isn’t to have the most WAR per $ spent anymore. At least it shouldn’t be.

    Now that they’re a good team, the goal has to be to have the most WAR possible while being under their payroll ceiling and not killing the future (whether that be through prospect-for-present trades or bad FA deals). If they let russ go, they need to replace that talent whether it is via the catcher position or somewhere else. If they let him go, and have the same team as this year, but minus Russ, then i’ll have a problem and my finally join in some FO bashing after all these years.

    But until then… let’s go bucs. win the central.

  • William Wallace
    July 22, 2014 10:56 am

    Tim I think that you have been consistent from the beginning of spring training about extending Martin. The dynamics of player sign-ability changes by the week. When Alvarez stared out hot this season everyone was jumping up and down to sign him. Last year when Walker had a miserable playoff series everyone said don’t sign him. I would hate to guarantee millions on a player who no longer performs. Martin has been consistent with his defense and any offense helps. I think he will opt for free agency and say all the right things. I only hope they offer him a QA.

  • This will be a one sided discussion up to the start of next season.
    First of all Martin won’t be here, Second of all, Sanchez will be the starting catcher next year. 3rd, the pundits and the fans will have a field day over this event. 4th Sanchez will not be as good as Martin is. Huntington has said repeatedly that they do not expect to sign Martin, why don’t people just listen to him? Martin is a fine catcher, but he is not the catcher of the future for this team. Also the article does not address his rate of regression with a 3 or 4 year contract, something he is more likely to get.

    • I don’t really care about regression. As you said, Martin will still be a better catcher than Sanchez. The Pirates need him. I wasn’t aware that NH has repeatedly stated they don’t expect to sign him. Sure he won’t hit .275 the next 3 years, but his all-around game makes him one of the top 7-8 catchers in the majors.

    • To Tim’s credit: “The benefit here is that so much of Martin’s value comes from his defense, and that’s not a skill that projects to decline in the next few years.”

  • If the Pirates offer the QO, it won’t matter that this is not a good catcher FA class. They will still have him at a good value. If the Pirates end up extending Martin, what are the going to do with Tony Sanchez?

    • Since there is a huge dropoff from Martin to Sanchez at this point, what they do with Sanchez is not that important. But, to answer your question, they could a. Use him the same way they are this season, and hope he improves. b. Make a trade ( he might fetch a quality player), or c. Make him Martin’s backup (unlikely as Stewart is signed for 2015).

      • smurph, I don;t think Stewie is signed for next year. IIRC they avoided ard with him on a 1 year $1 mil deal. BR has it that way too.

  • Tim, I think you’re fooling yourself if you think Martin can be had at $9-10 million a year. Far too many teams are Saber-savvy these days to ignore his defense and pitch framing. Couple that with the new TV revenue and plenty of teams in the market for a C and you might as well forget it. The argument you make (he is a critical piece of this team) is rationale enough for why he will get McCann money. McCann had posted 4.4 WAR total in his previous two seasons entering his age 30 season. Martin will have posted over 7 WAR entering age 32. Its going to take 4 years for over $60 million and the question becomes – do you want to be paying a 35 or 36 year old catcher $15+ million a year. I’d love to have him back, but not at what its going to take, the breakdown will come (1100+ games at C is a death sentence) and the Bucs won’t be there for it.

    • “Far too many teams are Saber-savvy these days to ignore his defense and pitch framing.”
      Then perhaps you could list the defense-first catchers – hell, any position player – getting upwards of $15m per year?

      • Martin is not defense first! He is an above average major league hitter and well above average for a C. He is better than McCann, why is that hard to get?

        • Better hitter? No, he most certainly is not.
          McCann posted a wRC+ over 120 in three of the last four seasons. Martin hasn’t done that since 2007.
          Feel free to make an actual argument using comps for why a defense first catcher in his 30s will fetch over $15m per year on the open market, likely with a qualifying offer dragging him down, or you can continue using the jalcorn427 method of analysis.

          • excuse me, my method includes defense and offense, acting like Martin is not a complete C is idiotic at best. Martin has always been an above league average hitting C. Your argument is basically “yeah but homers man”. McCann WAR 2012- 1.7 2013- 2.7. Free agent deal $80 million for 5 years 2014 WAR – 1.2. Martin WAR 2012 – 2.0, 2013 – 4.1, 2014 – 2.3.

            McCann last 3 years – 5.6 WAR
            Martin last 3 years – 8.4 WAR

            Its not even close. My argument is the guy who gets you more wins will get paid. It’s not rocket science. We aren’t talking about Jose Molina, this is an allstar gold glove catcher who has a very high reputation in the game. The only reason he got a low deal in 2012 was that he was coming off his worst offensive season and people assumed he was declining. We have come a long way in evaluating C defense since 2012 and teams know he adds a ton with his control of the running game and framing. We will see what the market bears soon enough.

            • Haha, pump the breaks there, buddy. Never once did I say Russ Martin is not a complete catcher. I said, and continue to say, that Russell Martin is a defense first catcher. One whose defense is better than offense. That is inarguable.
              While you continue to claim we’ve come a long way in evaluating catcher’s defense, you’ve yet to provide one example of a Major League Baseball team signing a high dollar free agent whose value is derived from mostly from defense. That’s all I’ve asked.
              Hitters still get paid. Defenders less so. I’m not saying anything that isn’t commonly accepted.

              • But WAR gets paid too, an average of $6-7 million per win in free agency. You are diminishing is sustained vale by discounting his offense. When someone says “glove-first” you think Brendan Ryan or Jose Molina, not Russell Martin. The reality is that Martin adds value with his glove and his bat, he is not going to get paid for his glove as you assert. Yadier Molina would be glove first by your approach and that is clearly not true. Just because you generate a ton of value on defense does not mean you don’t bring value on offense.

                The market was set for quality all around catchers and Free agent prices go up, not down. Carlos Ruiz got 3 years $27 million at age 35, McCann 5 years $80 million at age 30. If you feel he resembles Chooch more than McCann in value to a team that’s fine, we will see who is correct in 4-5 months.

                • Well, not all WAR is created equal regarding monetary value…nor is that $6-7m even one that individual teams use.
                  But thank you for providing some comps.

                  • Just FY, not as an argument, MLBTR ranks Martin the 10th best FA available for 2015 and the #1 C.

                    10. Russell Martin.
                    Perhaps Martin can’t maintain his .271 batting average, but he’s in the
                    midst of another solid campaign and doesn’t turn 32 until February.
                    Teams are also placing more and more emphasis on catching defense, and
                    Martin has gunned down 37 percent of attempted base-stealers while
                    ranking sixth in extra strikes added via pitch framing, per Baseball Prospectus.

          • BTW I never said he was a better hitter.

            And I don’t need another comp, McCann set the market just last winter. Where is your comp of a 3-4 win player getting paid $10 million or less a season?

        • He is not a better hitter than McCann. McCann has slumped but is heating up. McCann is awesome. He’s a clubhouse leader like Martin. For his career he is better offensively than Martin but just average defensively. I would rather have Martin though. Martin has had a few decent years offensively but this will probably be the 9th straight year McCann has hit at least 18 HR…and he gets on base as much as Martin too. He’s just not a freak athlete like Martin is behind the dish.

          • Brian McCann has not been awesome since 2011. Martin is coming off a 4 win season and will post over 3 this year.

      • Wabbit_Season
        July 22, 2014 10:49 am

        also reasonable

    • Great post Jalcorn. The best hope is Martin loves Pittsburgh and gives them a break. The biggest problem for the Pirates is when teams come offering that 4th year. A 4th year is dumb. Martin will be lucky to be a 2.0 WAR player by the time he is 36.

      • I doubt he gives the Pirates a break. He said he signed with the Bucs because they offered the most money and he was going to sign with the team that offered him the most. Why would that change now?

    • Wabbit_Season
      July 22, 2014 10:49 am


    • I’m afraid I have to agree with your price assessment. I hope they find a way to bring him back, but he could get a contract in the range of 3-4 years at $15 per. I’d be okay with 3yr/45. But would be really uncomfortable going north of that.

    • The $9-10 M figure was what he wanted last time around. It’s not what I think he will get. I think he’ll get more than that this time around.

      • Then how will the Pirates afford that? And should they really bay that money on a 4 year deal?

    • I’m not sure about “plenty of teams in the market” for C. Let’s go around the league: the Yankees got McCann. Red Sox’ #1 prospect is a catcher on the verge of a promotion to AAA. They won’t block him for 3-4 years. The Rays can’t take on that salary, the Orioles have Wieters. Maybe Toronto. The Twins have Pinto, but since they’re tying to re-sign Suzuki, maybe you could add them. Detroit has Avila, KC has Perez, Cleveland has Gomes. The White Sox are a dumpster fire, count them in. Angels have Iannetta and Conger, A’s have Norris, Astros have Castro, Seattle is refusing to include Zunino in trade talks, Texas is a maybe, though they have Soto back from injury.

      The Mets got d’Arnaud, Phil’s have Chooch, marlins got Salty, Braves have Gattis, Nats have Ramos. Cards have Molina, Reds have Mesoraco, Brewers have Lucroy, Cubs have Castillo. Giants have Posey,LA has Ellis and Federowitz, whom they like, AZ has Montero, San Diego traded Hundley to give Grandal playing time, and Colorado has Rosario.

      I count two teams that are in dire need – the White Sox and Jays – and another two “maybes” in Texas and Minnesota. And Toronto is rumored to be at max payroll (Anthopolous in an interview yesterday hemmed and hawed his way through questions about whether he had the ok to add payroll at the deadline).

      The competition is a lot less fearsome than you might think, especially if Texas is happy with Soto.

      • Well done.

      • We went down this road last week. We disagree on many of these.
        BOS – how likely are the Sox to play a rookie C in their reload?
        BAL – Weiters may not be close to ready from TJ surgery
        TOR – nothing
        CHW – nothing
        MIN – nothing
        TEX – nothing as they will reload
        OAK – Norris, but he is platooning
        LAA – nothing
        ATL – likely Betancourt, but they could go for it
        WAS – Ramos has disappointed tremendously
        CHC – money to burn as they turn the corner on the rebuild
        LAD – nothing
        SD – nothing

        Both LA teams, both Chicago teams, Boston, and a handful of others. It only takes one team to outbid us, we lost the AJ Burnett sweeps against only two other teams last year.

        • Well I would take issue that we “lost” the AJ sweeps – it wasn’t exactly an all-out effort to retain him.

          Boston will not block its #1 prospect for 3 years. Write that down. They’ll go with a tandem of Ross and Lavarnway for a year. They love Ross.

          Norris is an all-star catcher, he’s not going anywhere, and the A’s aren’t paying $12-$14M for a platoon mate.

          The Angels have Iannetta and his .794 OPS signed through next year, he’s not going anywhere.

          Why would Atlanta “go for it” with Evan Gattis and his .899 OPS in house and Betancourt a year away?

          I don’t know what your source is for Ramos “disappointing tremendously” – the only disappointment has been his injury history. He’s been a .750-.800 OPS guy consistently for four years. If Washington wants to spend $40+M on a marginal upgrade, then fine, trade for Ramos.

          I’ll believe the bit about the CHC spending money when they actually spend it.

          As I mentioned, I’m here in LA and there is zero talk of the Dodgers needing to upgrade C this offseason.

          San Diego has Yasmani Grandal in the majors, #1 prospect Austin Hedges in AA, no GM and cheap ownership. You do realize they have never signed a free agent to a multiyear deal at more than $10M annually?

  • lonleylibertarian
    July 22, 2014 9:11 am

    At the risk of beating a dead horse…

    First let me disagree on the AJ “would not have been better” opinion. Here is what making the QO would/could have done…
    First – if he signed the offer…
    1. No need to sign Volquez – and yes that signing has worked out OK – but last night showed why it was not great. I blame Hurdle for the stupid protest – stopped the flow of the game – not enough “benefit” even if you win it – and it clearly got into EVs head. This is not the first time we have seen head case behavior from him…
    2. AJ would have started the season as the #1 guy – that pushes Frankie and Cole and the rest of the rotation down a notch – and takes a bit of pressure off of Liriano – HC#2.
    Depending on how things went in Spring Training I could even see a scenario where they trade Liriano for a real 1st baseman 😉
    3. Still would add Worley – low risk, high potential reward…
    AJ opts to not sign…
    1. He retires ( which might mean he is fully healthy sitting at home about now and willing to consider a $5-7 million deal to help Bucs get back to playoffs.
    2. He signs elsewhere and the Bucs have one more draft pick…

    • Wabbit_Season
      July 22, 2014 10:48 am

      The liberal is bunking with the libertarian today. I was a fan of giving AJ the qualifying offer, but I think the Bucs saw his decline at the end of the year as a cassandra of things to come. OR the Bucs were being dudes and let AJ walk basically allowing him to go on and get a good payday and pitch elsewhere.

      NOW would be the wrong time to bring him back unless you needed a strikeout in the 7th inning out of the bullpen. And that ain’t happenin.

      I do like your take on how AJ would have affected the trade scenario, though. I could see a pitcher like him or Liriano getting you a good first baseman.

      On the other hand, Volquez has been a good signing in a few ways. He’s put up good starting numbers and adds to the growing legend that is the Pirates’ pitching program. This makes the Bucs a likely destination for a lot of pitchers who want to unscrew their mechanics and regain their best form.

      If ya wanna do anything, you pay Searage and Benedict and whoever else is in charge of the pitching development. They are doing it the right way.

      In a lesser light, you can see Frieri starting to pitch better of late. He was a complete mess when he showed up. But something in those weeks of bullpens is clicking because he’s put up some good numbers of late.



      • Wabbit…we’ve been missing your carrots over at the Asylum.

        • In the end AJ was AJ. He was a good teammate while he was here and he talks the talk…but he could never really back it up…and he had a chance to win in the playoffs again late in his career…and he passed it up to go to a weak Phillies team. In the end it was not about anything but a paycheck…and it worked out fine for everyone.

    • William Wallace
      July 22, 2014 10:59 am

      Agree with most except “I could even see a scenario where they trade Liriano for a real 1st baseman”. Who out there was a real first baseman? I couldn’t see anybody that the Pirates would have gotten. Not anyone from the NL Central.

    • That’s the only thing I don’t like. Not getting the draft pick.

  • Great article Tim, once again. I hope the Pirates make a deal too. I’m also wondering if anyone can tell me how Sanchez is doing defensively in Indy? I’d love to see him back up in Pitt as the backup, especially if they are going to sign Martin to an extension, because in my mind anyone is better than Stewart. Sanchez off the bench would be a bonus as he tends to get lucky in that situation. If they are really considering paying up for Martin, then where is the benefit of having Sanchez playing daily down there, unless he’s still being prepped for the job in 2015….

    • Sanchez’ defense at Indy is shaky. Very poor CS%, and a lot of errors. 8 in 45 games which is a bunch. No way to tell what his range is…I would guess average, and his passed ball rate has stayed the same as last year, which is probably around average. I don’t really know if Sanchez frames well or not…haven’t heard a lot about that but if I had to grade him as a defensive catcher on a 3-8 scale, I wouldn’t go higher than a 4 which is well below average.

      • Apparently you and the manager for Indy disagree, according to him Sanchez is much improved since his send down.

        • I will believe it when I start seeing him throwing out runners and stop making an error every 5th game. In fact he made a bunch of those errors since he has been sent down. 13% caught stealing rate in the minors, 14% in the majors this year. 15% career in the majors. 23% in minors. 13 errors in less than 70 games between majors and minors…that is a horrific amount of errors for a catcher. He does a pretty good job blocking but that is only one piece. Teams are running more and he plays in a division with Billy Hamilton…he has got to throw better or he will get abused. Remember the schlub they had before Martin that threw out 10% and what an awful season that was?

        • Of course- since when is a AAA manager going to say anything bad about a player who is to take over in ML soon, who is doing what he is told and working hard- never

      • Thanks, so that’s low, but better than Stewart, right? Certainly he’s a better option off the bench, although I know the Pirates don’t like to use a catcher as a pinch hitter…I just think we need to bring him up and get rid of Stewart. he’s awful.

        • Stewart’s defense in a small sample this year has dropped off for whatever reason but in the past he was an above avg defensive catcher…and the Pirates fo likes his framing ability. He has always been average or slightly below at throwing out runners. He has been a little better lately so guessing he will finish strong. He is hitting better than he ever has this year and still has an ops+ of 79 and he is as bad as any hitter that gets semi-regular time in the majors with a career ops+ of 62. I got a sickening shiver when I typed that 62. Stewart is a nice #3 if they can keep him and find a better 2nd catcher and keep Stewart at Indy. It just goes to show you the perils of catching…the Pirates went into the season seemingly loaded at catcher in the system…now with Sanchez’ struggles and Martin possibly leaving and a lot of guys still in the lower levels they could start next season hurting at the position.

  • If I were the Pirates, I would late this season. The day before I try to sell 2015 season tickets. Use the signing to try to boost season tickets sales.

  • Good baseball teams are built up the middle, and that is where small markets must focus their resources.
    Take the money they would’ve wasted on James Loney last year and give it to Martin. The money is there. There is no doubt about that.

  • I was shocked when they first signed him. I’d love to be shocked again, but I have a feeling I am going to be disappointed.

  • 4/$68M thats what it will need to be.

    To get there we can:

    Trade Gaby for a C- prospect and have Hague play the RHH 1B role.
    Trade Ike for a B prospect and have Lambo play the LHH role.
    DFA Frieri

    We also could plan on Kingham taking a rotation spot and start with a rotation of:

    Cole, Morton, Locke, Worley and Kingham. That’s a really cheap rotation. Cumpton and Sampson at AAA.

    • Scott Kliesen
      July 22, 2014 8:06 am

      If 4/$68M is what it will take, Pirates aren’t in play. No matter who they trade or DFA. I don’t think it will take $17M/yr to get him, but he will get 4 yr offers.

      • It won’t take near $17m/yr to get Martin.

        • I’m with you. Either 3/$42 or 4/$48. The Yankees, Giants and Dodgers aren’t in play, which takes three of the biggest overpayers off the market. And they have the money. Attendance is up, national tv money is trickling in, and the FO didn’t spend close to its allotment for this past offseason.

          • Those values seem more reasonable to me based on comparable players and contracts, but I will give those projecting more at least a chance considering how much money is floating around the game.
            We’re assuming these offers come with the QO attached, correct? Right or wrong, I think we’ve seen that absolutely makes a difference.

            • I would certainly make a QO to depress his value – even if NH couldn’t work anything out, at $15M Martin only needs to deliver something like 2.5 WAR to break even on contract value, which barring injury seems very likely to happen.

          • Agreed,

            I was thinking 4 years, $50 million (last year as option year).

      • Yes. That’s too much and more importantly too long for a catcher who will be approaching his mid 30s. Martin’s offense probably won’t remain this good for much longer making him worth nowhere near all that money over that span. If they could do a 3 year/ 39 mil deal or even better 2 years/30 mil or something like that I’d be all for it. Catchers usually hit the wall offensively sometime around 33-35. The need to keep Martin is great but they can’t wreck their payroll structure either.

    • Cheap plan B of Lambo/hague platoon actually doesn’t sound too bad.
      But sadly OOTP trades don’t happen oftn IRL.
      4/68 seems too rich for the buccos, but sadly i think that’s what martin will make in FA.

      • Wabbit_Season
        July 22, 2014 10:22 am

        If Martin gets 4/68, I think that’s a bit rich. I think he’d be in the $13-$15M range per year depending. And if he gets that much it won’t be because of his defense. It’ll be because of his uptick this year with the bat.

        Right now he’s hitting .271 (big improvement this year) with a .394 OBP. He’s now hitting above his career average (.251). Though in his younger days he was hitting in the .280-.290 range.

        The money is worth it for the D. The other night he gunned down two. This quietly happens all the time.

        Lookit. Martin has been in the bigs since 2002. 12 years. And he’s been consistent, especially in his time with the Bucs. I bet his body doesn’t catch up with him for the next 3 years, he’s such a pro.

        This would be the rare case where you want to pay for a veteran entering his declining years. You bring up Tony Montana as the back up and season him with the big club and he’ll be a good fall-back at least. Plus I like Sanchez bat.

        I think the Bucs will make this happen.


        • Yeah, wabbit. I don’t think he’ll get 68 million. Three years- 45 million, 4th year option. If one or more of their young catchers are ready by 2017 or 2018, they can trade Martin at that point.

  • Scott Kliesen
    July 22, 2014 7:47 am

    I agree wholeheartedly w your assessment Tim. Martin is an integral part of the success of Pirates pitching. Unfortunately, I don’t believe Pirates will win a bidding war for him because of the unfair playing field of MLB.

    I believe Martin will sign w an AL team on a 4-5 year deal. In the AL, teams can sign position players to longer deals with less fear of defensive decline due to the DH rule. In addition, Martin can give his knees a day off of squatting and still get his AB’s by playing DH.

    This is nearly as big of a disadvantage to teams as the big market/small market payroll landscape. I wonder how long MLB will allow this to continue before it gets addressed? Until then, expect to continue to see NL position players bolt for the greener pastures of the land of designated hitters.

    • I’m with you on the DH inequality being a disadvantage for the NL and really want to see the DH implemented in all games. I know it’s an unpopular opinion on this site (I floated it before and kicked up a hornet’s nest) but this is precisely the test case for why. The White Sox and Jays can need a long term solution at catcher and can offer Martin a few DH days and potentially the extra year, and for the Bucs to match, it would be a bad contract. But this is one of those times when they need to pony up, no matter how bad it is. They have the money, and the entire team is ridiculously under paid. If you break the bank for one player, pick the one who can’t be replaced in any other way.

      • I appreciate and agree with the argument, but with all due respect to Russ, we’re not talking about Mauer, Posey, or Santana here.
        Russ Martin has barely been an above average Major League hitter (105 wRC+) through age 31. Doesn’t seem very smart at all for a team to plan on him being any better into mid-30s. His value is behind the plate, especially making more than $10m/yr.

        • I agree with this. Yes Martin is great and the Pirates should make him a priority. However I think there is the tendency to overstate his contributions relative to the dregs that have been behind the plate for the Pirates in recent seasons.

          Martin is a .231/.331/.394, 103 wR+ hitter since leaving LA. Hitting league average while providing elite defense is a tremendous value. I thinks will want more than a league average hitter at the DH spot.

          Martin is 31 years old, this type of player doesn’t improve offensively. Martin’s contact rates are trending downward, and he seems to be in that harvesting face of trading contact for pulled fly balls. However he does seems to be defying these trends somewhat this season, but he is not in the same offensive class as Posey, Ruiz, or McCann.

          • Nailed it. Contact rate and power are trending in the wrong direction, and I don’t think it’s wise to believe he all the sudden turned into a true-talent +.330 BABIP hitter. I believe you’re right on with his value relative to recently departed Pirate catchers.
            Similarly, I’m willing to bet Pedro doesn’t come close to the $100m+ contract quite a few fans seem to think will make him too expensive for an extension. He won’t be extended because he’s not that good, not because he’s too expensive.

          • Not disagreeing with you – but to put this in context, a 103 wRC+ would rank 9th out of 13 DHs (minimum 110 PA) – not great, but certainly playable. And there is the consideration that Martin’s time behind the plate detracts from his hitting, if ever so slightly.

            At the very least, the DH gives an AL team the opportunity to rest Martin while deploying his league-average bat (particularly if it happens to be one of the teams in the bottom half of DH production), which is something an NL team can largely not do.

            Also, Martin has been pulling the ball since his last year or two in LA – one of the reasons folks here (I live in LA) weren’t sad to see him go is they were tired of watching him swing at pitches on the outer half and ground them weakly to SS/3B.

            But overall good points. I don’t disagree.

            • Fair point, I’d argue that DH production is down somewhat this year at 99 wRC+ overall.

              I agree with the general point, that the DH provides an advantage for the AL, I just think its impact in this case will be minimal. Quickly looking at some of the teams with bad DH production, Yankees, Indians, Mariners, don’t appear to in the market for a catcher. Rangers could be, but they need a mini rebuild.

              Boston might line up well for Martin, unfortunately.

          • Mr. Goodkat
            July 22, 2014 2:07 pm

            “Martin is 31 years old, this type of player doesn’t improve offensively.”

            Marlon Byrd would like a word with you…

            • exception to the rule obviously. Nelson Cruz and jose bautista can also join that list

        • Good point, NMR – though using the DH to preserve his body is still valid. And since wRC+ is not adjusted for position, a 105 is still an above average major league hitter, and certainly playable as a DH, just not as the full-time DH. But in year 4 of a hypothetical 4/$48M contract, 100 games at C and 30-40 games at DH with a roughly 100 wRC+ is still a positive return on that last $12M.

      • You are talking about a DH as a positive selling point for a player who wants to play shortstop- this guy loves playing period, and doesn’t want to be relegated to DH- ever.

        • Make no mistake about what I am saying: the pitch to Martin has NOTHING to do with the DH. The pitch is a hypothetical fourth year guaranteed and the salary that comes with it. The DH is simply the mechanism that makes a 4th year more workable and palatable for an AL team, and something not available to an NL team.

  • Joe Nastasi
    July 22, 2014 7:26 am

    I agree with trying real hard to sign him but I think they need to be a little creative. 2015 – 13M.
    2016 – 11M
    2017 – 8M Club option. W/1M buyout
    It would make it a tradeable contract if need be later.
    I don’t put much faith in what pitchers say about their catcher’s. AJ preached how great Barajas was. I think we all new that was a crock.

    • That’s a great contract. Sadly there’s no chance Martin accepts only a 2yr 24mil offer.
      Especially with the bad FA catchers in 2015.

    • That won’t get Martin- Realistically, we need him, but there’s a limit, i don’t see us going farther than 3/35- I do see us giving a qualifying offer, so at least that’s something. There are always trades, forget about free agents

  • Great article Tim.
    This usually goes against your stance on signing players who are older and in their declining years.
    But on Martin I agree wholeheartedly.
    Yes, his offense isnt that great, but he has good obp #s, and still is 2nd on the team in war and obp, 3rd behind Walker in wrc+, woba.

    There is also talk from the saber crowd that maybe the sabermetric crowd itself is OVER valuing pitch framing. But that is just a part whole package he brings with his +defense and handling of the pitching staff.

    I usually don’t put much faith in the unquantifiable bupkis “intangibles” ppl love to talk about but from all reports he really does seem to bring it.
    Leadership, teaching young catchers and pitchers, pitch framing+calling, defense, etc etc. He even preaches training hard and eating right.
    Dare i say … the Gary Roberts of the Buccos? But with actual skills?

    I’m afraid he’ll be an old, overpriced guy 3,4 years later as catchers rarely age well, but he is one of the few players i think is worth it for value he brings the next two years.

    Again, great article..