Hidden Vigorish

Detailed Analysis of The Pittsburgh Pirates

Sizing Up the Market for Russell Martin

Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin will be a free agent in a few short weeks. He is the best available catcher in this free agent class and will be highly sought after. Although Martin is on the wrong side of 30 he should still find several teams willing to offer him a multi-year contract in the neighborhood of $15 million Annual Average Value (AAV). At a minimum it will take a 3 year contract to ink him, and it is very likely it will take 4 or more guaranteed years to get a deal done. So here are the potential landing spots to sign Russell Martin.

The Incumbent


Pittsburgh Pirates
Why he makes sense for the Pirates: Martin is well respected by his teammates, adored by the fans, and the front office has already said signing him is a priority. Pitch framing and strong defense are two attributes the Pirates really value, and Martin is elite in both those aspects. He has been a prefect fit for the organization since he joined them two years ago. The Pirates intend to extend him a qualifying offer.

Why he doesn’t make sense for the Pirates: Money, Money, Money. The largest free agent contract the Pirates have ever handed out was the $17 million contract they gave Martin two years ago. It will take triple that to sign him now. The Pirates are a frugal organization that avoids risky long term signings. Catchers do not age gracefully. Martin will be 32 next season. Signing him comes with a significant risk that his play will regress and he will underperform the backend of the contract.

Strong Suitors

Red Sox
Why he makes sense for the Red Sox: The Red Sox ended up really missing Jarrod Saltalamacchia who left the Sox for the Marlins as a free agent last winter. Boston’s catchers combined for just 0.9 fWAR in 2014. Young Christian Vazquez has some talent, but the Red Sox are a team that aspires to be contenders every season. They probably won’t be comfortable just handing over the bulk of the catching duties to Vazquez. The Red Sox have a protected 1st round draft pick, so the qualifying offer that will be attached to Martin will not deter them. The Red Sox are a cash rich organization that is financially capable of bidding on the best available free agent talent.

Why he doesn’t make sense for the Red Sox: In the past few seasons the Red Sox have to stayed away from deals longer than 3 years. The Red Sox covet the roster flexibility that shorter contracts provide.

Why he makes sense for the Cubs: The Cubs are a team on the come with numerous young position player talent. They might be ready to contend if they can get the most out of their pitching staff. What better way to do that than by adding a catcher like Martin that is great at handling a pitching staff and helps steal strikes for pitchers with his exceptional framing skills? The Cubs’ brass has also spoken of the need to add some veteran presence and leadership to the squad. As an added bonus signing Martin would also be taking away a player from a strong division rival. Much like the Red Sox, the Cubs have a protected 1st round pick and plenty of money in the coffers to sign a free agent of Martin’s ilk.

Why he doesn’t make sense for the Cubs: The Cubs actually have a fair catcher in Welington Castillo. Martin might also not believe the Cubs are as close to contending as they think. Would he take an offer from the Cubs if stronger contenders are beckoning?

Why he makes sense for the Tigers: The Tigers are team in a win now mode and their catcher Alex Avila has suffered from several recent concussions. They are also not shy about chasing top notch free agents.

Why he doesn’t make sense for the Tigers: The Tigers have really expanded their payroll beyond a comfortable level, and their farm system has been left with a dearth of talent due to numerous trades in recent seasons. Signing Martin would continue to hurt them on both fronts as signing him will not be cheap and the Tigers would lose their 2015 1st round draft pick.


Why he makes sense for the Rangers: The Rangers had an abysmal season in 2014 and the catcher position was part of the problem. Martin could really solidify a position in which the Rangers produced less than 1 fWAR. The Rangers also have a track record as being players in the free agent market. They also have a protected 1st round draft pick.

Why he doesn’t make sense for the Rangers: The Rangers have had a bloated payroll for years and they have hinted that they need to trim their budget. They had so many problems last season and catcher is probably not their biggest issue. They might be closer to going the rebuilding route than making a run at another expensive free agent.

Why he makes sense for the Dodgers: The Dodgers are a team that is in a win now mode and got underwhelming performances this season from catchers A.J. Ellis and Drew Butera. New GM Andrew Friedman has a reputation from his tenure with the Rays for valuing more advanced defensive catcher skill sets like pitch framing and blocking. Martin fits the bill. The Dodgers look like the favorites to land him.

Why he doesn’t make sense for the Dodgers: Even with subpar performance from their catchers the Dodgers still had the best record in the National League. The Dodgers have the highest payroll in baseball. How much higher can they go? At some point the escalators on the payroll luxury tax will be problematic for the Dodgers. It is also unclear how Friedman will handle having such a large budget. Although Martin would be affordable to the Dodgers I don’t expect they would make him an insane offer far beyond what other clubs would be willing to pay. Friedman is too smart to saddle himself with too much sunk cost at the end of any contract. Signing Martin would also cost the Dodgers their 2015 1st round draft pick.


Dark Horses

Blue Jays, Rockies, White Sox, Mariners, Mets, Braves
Why he makes sense for these clubs: These clubs have varying needs for a catcher. Among this group the White Sox and Rockies appear to have the biggest need for a good backstop.

Why he doesn’t make sense for these clubs: The Mariners have Mike Zunino and the Mets have Travis d’Arnaud. Both are younger catchers with upside, so unless these clubs absolutely love Russell Martin they probably will stick with what they have for now. Dioner Navarro did an adequate job for the Blue Jays last season. Although he profiles more as a backup, the Blue Jays will probably be inclined to stick with him instead of spending lavishly on Martin. The Braves have Evan Gattis who can mash, but defensively is a liability. Cost and the loss of a 1st round pick would probably dissuade them from getting involved in the market for Russell Martin. The Blue Jays, Mets, and Mariners would also lose a 1st round pick if they were to sign a free agent attached to a qualifying offer. The Rockies could really use a catcher, but Martin is likely out of their price range. The White Sox would be a good fit, but they are not likely to contend next season and that could affect their willingness to sink money into an aging veteran catcher.


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