A Look at What Free Agency Could Bring For Russell Martin and Edinson Volquez

Over the last two days, there have been a few articles written on two of the Pittsburgh Pirates’ free agents, Russell Martin and Edinson Volquez, looking at what those guys could make in free agency. In Martin’s case, everyone agrees that he will receive a huge payday, although there hasn’t really been a consensus on the amount he could receive, or the years. From the looks of things, there is no consensus in MLB front offices either.

Buster Olney had an article today looking at Martin’s pending free agency. In the article, he polled executives around the league, who had some mixed opinions on what Martin could get. The key takeaway was that some felt a four-year deal would be a tipping point for Martin, versus a three-year offer. Other executives felt the key number to get Martin to sign will be five years. Olney comes up with a guess of four years and $50-60 M.

I’ve been more on the “five years is the tipping point” in my writing about Martin, mostly because big market teams like the Dodgers, Cubs, Rangers, and Red Sox have a need at catcher. If the price is four years and $50-60 M, then that’s a price the Pirates should pay.

There is some risk involved in paying Martin that much for his age 32-35 seasons. Travis Sawchik looked at that risk, noting that the decline in catchers from age 32-34 is pretty big, especially after the steroid era. He also notes something I’ve argued, that pitch framing — which is one of Martin’s big values — doesn’t see as sharp of a decline. I think that, plus his work with the pitching staff, will bring enough value to make him valuable for the duration of his deal. Dave Cameron made the same arguments about framing skills over at FanGraphs.

The Pirates will almost certainly be more risk-averse than big market teams. But Martin is a guy you take a risk on, and if the price is what Olney suggests, then that’s a risk I think they should take.

As for Volquez, MLBTR released a free agent profile, looking at what the pitcher could receive on the open market. The expected contract was a two-year, $18 M deal. Last week I wrote about reclamation projects, noting that Volquez could technically still qualify if the Pirates believe they can turn his top stuff into a true top of the rotation pitcher. I noted that if the price was $8-10 M per year, then it wouldn’t be a bad price to pay. All of that depends on whether you believe the advanced metrics (which say Volquez is a league average starter) are gospel, or if you believe he can take another step with more work from Ray Searage and Jim Benedict. Volquez has some of the best stuff in baseball, so I’d lean on the side that there’s more to him than the xFIP shows.

If the Pirates did go for Martin and Volquez at these prices, they’d be adding about $20-24 M to their 2015 payroll, which is currently projected at $65 M. I’m guessing that will go down a bit with an Ike Davis or Pedro Alvarez trade, meaning the Pirates would be at $80-85 M in 2015, giving them room for a second reclamation project starting pitcher.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Whatever happened to talk about Russell playing some 1B? Josh Bell is still a project at 1B; I doubt Gaby Sanchez is any long-range (heck, he’s barely short-range) thing as the RH platoon; the LH 1B platoon gets crowded with Alvarez, Ike (definitely should trade one of these), and Lambo; and when signing Russell, the Pirates talked of preserving him with some other position work that he seemed to be interested in doing. He’d be catcher now, but the team could preserve him (obviously his knees are an ongoing issue) by playing some 1B… especially with Diaz coming in. Let’s have our cake and eat it to by pro-longing a 4-year, $60-mill investment by using him to catch a lot short-term, with thoughts of some 1B later.

David Lewis

You kind of lose the value of catcher defense and pitch framing by having Martin play 1B. An excellent defensive catcher with a 95-100 wRC+ (taking a SWAG at Martin’s age 34-35 seasons) is fine. A 1B with a 95-100 wRC+ is replacement-level.


i agree w/ Tim completely… 4/60 for Martin is steep but do-able, and 2/18 for EV brings a known quantity w/ some upside. i’d be thrilled if the Pirates are able to sign either Martin or EV. if they can sign both, then you’d have to consider Pgh the favorite in the NL central, imo.

Brian Bernard

#The Bucs Start Here!

Brian Bernard

Were the bucs not able to put a QO on Liriano or Volquez?
Thinking about the payroll it’s been estimated that signing Volquez and Martin would take the payroll to 80-85 mil – why is that where it should be though considering the very open window (see 2 yrs row in playoffs)?
OK so you don’t blow your prospects in crazy deals, but this is clearly a good if not great time to be a little free with your dollars on available players. Considering the pursuit of Jon Lester in the chase, why not seriously add him to two of the other team free agents and look to push the payroll to 100-105 mil for the next few years. More contending and great baseball will allow the team to not only compete but to meaningfully raise ticket prices to low to mid tier range of baseball rightfully by spending on winning. This is what the fans want, and what the team needs so why isn’t the time now? I say it is now and such a modicum increase should be within the financial means of the team and the Pittsburgh sports base of fans. The time is now Neal – just spend the $ on winners!! (Lester, Martin, Liriano, and Volquez) Move the losers (Ike,Gaby,Pedro – Go with Lambo no doubt he showed he’s ready to take the job this year.)


What if they spend the $100m and the team actually gets worse. Fans stop going as much and/or aren’t receptive to ticket increases..


I don’t think we should snooze on the thought of an extra 1st rounder. We’re in a stage where it won’t be easy to stock up on high end talent in the draft. An extra pick in the 11-40 range could be a nice get.


Chances are that if another team signs Martin (Red Sox, Cubs, Rangers), they will have a protected first round pick (Rounds 1-10).

Lee Foo Young

But we still get that pick in the comp round. El Guapo is wrong about getting a ‘true’ first rounder.


Which of Volquez’s advanced metrics show him to be an average starter? His FIP was 16% worse than average last year. His xFIP was 14% worse. Those stats make him look quite a bit worse than average.

Despite that, his ERA was 14% better than average, so it seems to me like the Pirates have already squeezed every drop of blood from that stone by getting a poor pitcher to perform like a very good one. It seems far-fetched to think there could be yet another level there. Time to move on and let someone else pay 10M a year for a fifth starter.

Also, Sawchik’s article does not note a significant decline in catcher performance between ages 32 and 34 after the steroid era. To the extent that the article shows anything, given the questionable analysis, it shows stable production from ages 32-34 in the post-steroid era. In fact, he shows pretty stable production from 32 all the way to 35, with a decline after that. The decline was much steeper during the steroid era, according to his analysis, which, again, is questionable.


If he’s able to improve his k rate then his xfip will improve. Lol


I don’t understand your point. You could say this about any pitcher (assuming all else staying equal, of course).


Sorry esd. I was actually just half heartedly joking that he could improve his xfip next year by simply striking out more and facing less batters.. I’m not the best of communicators though : )


Ya.. just that if they think Volquez is still improving on his control and makes strides spring training. . Then why put much weight into his 2014 xfip.. which was a point being made with regard to him potentially still a project


It’s a matter of baseline. If you think Volquez’s peripherals suggest an average starter, then the upside will be very promising, as an improvement on an average starter would mean a top-of-rotation starter. But unless Tim is aware of advanced metrics that I am not, he is wrong to say that the advanced metrics pin Volquez as average. The ones I’m familiar with peg him as a fifth-starter-at-best. From that baseline, 2014 pretty much was his upside, since he performed like a solid #3 . Hoping to get even more than that seems overly optimistic.

It’s important because Tim is discussing a potential 2/18 deal. If Volquez is an average starter who could be even better, then 2/18 is a good deal (as Tim says). If Volquez is a well-below-average starter with average upside (as the xFIP suggests) then 2/18 is not a good deal at all.


It’s been alluded to on one of tim’s recent post with regards to gb/fb rates and buccos impact of shifts.. but without a reliable baseline it could easily be that Volquez walks less next year and his xfip improves closer to his era.. I don’t think his xfip has any more reliability then his era without having more information around the timeframes of his changes & development


I get all of that.. my point is that the fo may believe he is still progressing and hasn’t established a baseline.. or probably more likely using a baseline much more complex then just 2014 bb/rate

dr dng

As I have said before, I like watching Volquez pitch, but I would not go beyond 2 years for 15 million. Sorry, but that’s all I’m going.

A for Martin, I am staying with my previous offer.
1) Team captain or the next three years.
2) 3 years and 45 million. (maybe I’d go 48, but absolutely no more.)
3) Guaranteed three year contract as coach or manager at the AA level or above upon retirement whenever that is. (Can you imagine him as a conditioning coordinator?)

That’s it. That’s all I got.


Sign Martin for 4/$60M if that can get it done. Hopefully he can maintain his high level of play for the first couple years and maintain a high level of value on the trade market. Front load the deal even if it helps with his trade value after year 2. He would be the starter this coming year(2015) with Stewart as the backup until Diaz is ready to arrive later in the summer. For 2016 Martin and Diaz can split the duties and Diaz can learn from the best and Martin doesn’t get worn out, again save his body for trade value. Look to trade Martin in the 2016 offseason with Diaz ready to take over in 2017. McGuire would hopefully be in AAA for the 2017 season and next in line. I would even give Martin a signing bonus to keep his salary lower for the 2017/2018 seasons and increasing his trade value.


I like the concept of signing for 4 years and trading after 2 (and of course praying the first 2 years are at least good). But disagree with the idea of trying to lower the salaries in years 3 & 4, either by front loading or a signing bonus. First, avg salaries in 3 years will be higher, so it won’t appear as inflated and may actually be slightly discounted. Second, the only way they’re going to get anything in a trade is if years 1 & 2 are good (or better), so the slightly higher salaries in years 3 & 4 will be palatable to any team willing to trade for him.

And of course if eveything goes sideways, they can still eat some salary to get a trade done after 2 years. It just leaves it as an option, instead of a certainty, the way paying more $$ upfront would.


hmmm. Volquez at 2 x 20 or McCarthy at 3 x 36 or Liriano at 3 x 36… ?

Volquez is the safest 200 innings. Liriano has the best shot at a star-level season. McCarthy is kind of a little of both.

I’m looking forward to this offseason. Will be interesting to see what bounceback types they target.


Actually I think Volquez is the safer bet for a 4 year deal (compared to Martin). Volquez 4 x 32 would be good value.


Even if the xFIP numbers for Volquez are what he truly is, if he gives you 4 or 5 WAR over the next two seasons for that price tag, I’d buy that. Granted, they don’t call Edinson “Mr. Consistent”, but I’d take the gamble.


it all depends on if the Pirates think they’ve somehow beat xFIP, and therefor fangraphs WAR. Fangraphs WAR really didn’t like him very much. 0.7 last year.

Or maybe they think he’ll just continue to improve. K more guys and BB less guys.

It is pretty shocking that he didn’t strike out more guys last year with the stuff that he has. So maybe there is another level of Volquez that would provide xFIPs that were closer to 3 than to 4.

But he’s also on the wrong side of 30 now, so that may be a risky game.

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