Last night, Russell Martin signed a two-year deal worth $16.5 million with the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was reported that the Yankees didn’t even make an offer. This leaves the Yankees with very few catching options and who knows what they will do. People who are saying that this isn’t a big deal because Martin had a down year last season are missing the greater issue that this represents.
The fact that the Pirates gave Martin a very fair contract and the Yankees chose not to match it, with no good in-house catching replacements is a scary sign. You have to figure Martin would have rather come back to New York than go to Pittsburgh, so if the Yankees just matched that offer you have to figure he would be a Yankee. Martin was always a player the front office was fond of, so the fact that they didn’t match a fair offer for him means they really don’t want to spend any money at all. It really boggles my mind that the Yankees couldn’t match this.
Martin is an average hitting catcher and an above average defensive catcher who is well worth what Pittsburgh is paying him. Martin’s line for the 2011 season was.211/.311/.403. His .714 OPS was fine for his position and when you combine that with his defense and power, it more than makes up for his average, which is not a good stat in determining value anyways. Martin hit an impossibly low .222 on balls in play and was one of the few Yankees who had clutch this down the stretch. Martin hit a career high 21 homers and had a good walk percentage of 10.9%. According to Jay Jaffe of SI.com, Martin’s pitch framing was 15 runs above average at midseason last season and the final value is unpublished, but it has Martin at 19 runs above average.
Martin is certainly replaceable, but the Yankees’ resources to replace him are minimal. If they couldn’t afford Martin for two years and $16 million, than I don’t see how Mike Napoli or A.J. Pierzynski could cost less. I would love to get Pierzynski on a one-year deal. Sure, he won’t have as good of a year as last season, but he should fit well in Yankee Stadium and he would bring a level of toughness that was lacking last season. The trade market for catchers is probably not good, as good catchers are so valuable that teams are reluctant to give them up.
It should be obvious to most people that Francisco Cervelli and Chris Stewart are not starting caliber catchers. Austin Romine missed the whole season last year, so I doubt that he is ready either. For reasons I will never understand, a lot of fans really like Cervelli. In my opinion, his defense is atrocious and despite a decent career batting average isn’t much of a hitter and would get exposed given regular at-bats. There is a serious problem if Cashman truly believes that they can go with these internal catchers.
Martin really was a good catcher for the Yankees and his leadership will be missed. However, a lot of fans I have seen on Twitter are missing the big picture of what this means. They might figure it out if the Yankees spend no money to fix huge holes at catcher and right field. Hopefully this is a part of some master plan, but I doubt it.
It is certainly fair to say that the Yankees should be able to win with a $189 million payroll. However, when you have so much money tied into Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, CC Sabathia and Derek Jeter and two of them are not worth their money, it is a lot harder. It is also harder when you have little farm help ready. Hal Steinbrenner might figure out it is not as easy as he think to build a championship team at $189 million. He also might figure out that Yankees fans’ patience will not last very long if this penny pinching continues. Even though the offseason is still very young, mine is starting to go by the day.