Pirates Sign Russell Martin

In case you missed it, the Pittsburgh Pirates outbid the New York Yankees for catcher Russell Martin.

Martin signed for two years and $17M, after hitting .211 with 21 HR for the Yankees. From the Washington Post:

“There is a lot to like about Russell,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “He handles a pitching staff well, he calls a good game, he throws well, he is capable of hitting the ball out of the ballpark. We’re very excited to be able to add him to our club.”


First things first: I’ve always liked Russell Martin. To me he was a fairly good receiver with decent throwing skills, but most importantly, took charge of the infield and handled pitchers well. He used to be more athletic, but some hip and leg issues have limited his mobility; he’s average or maybe below average in blocking balls, and he doesn’t run the bases as well as he used to.

Offensively, Martin provides more pop than the average catcher, and though his batting average took a nosedive over the last five years, he still draws his share of walks — enough to keep his OBP over .300 and OPS over .700.

But $17M for two years? Wow. I didn’t think he was worth that much. The Mets surely could have used Martin behind the plate in ’13 and ’14, but not at that price.

Though he hit 39 homers over the past two seasons, but the Pirates shouldn’t expect to see that kind of production. Two major factors heavily influenced Martin’s homerun total: being in an All-Star lineup filled with sluggers, and the short right field porch in Yankee Stadium. After facing the likes of Robinson Cano, Curtis Granderson, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira, pitchers tended to mentally “let up” when the little fireplug came to the plate — and Martin was able to hit the mistakes. Further, the righthanded-hitting Martin blasted ten homeruns to the opposite field in 2012 — all came at Yankee Stadium. Put Martin into a comparatively weak Pittsburgh lineup, playing half his games in Pittsburgh, and my bet is he’ll hit somewhere around 8 homers in 2013 — not enough to justify $8M – $9M.

Still, that’s what Martin will be getting, which means the price of adequate catching just went up. How does this deal affect A.J. Pierzynski, who is a better hitter and about as good as Martin behind the plate? Heck, how about Kelly Shoppach, who projects to hit with the same or more power and be similar defensively?

The Mets certainly need a catcher, but if the cost to get someone of Russell Martin’s ilk is going to cost more than $15M over two years, I’m not sure it’s worth it.

What say you? Would you have signed Martin to that kind of deal? Do you think he’ll perform in Pittsburgh? Answer in the comments.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. DaveSchneck December 2, 2012 at 10:39 pm
    What would Johnny Bench in his prime be worth in this market? What about Joe Janish?
    • Dan B December 3, 2012 at 12:59 am
      I don’t know what Johnny Bench in his prime would be worth, but if Russell Martin is worth $8.5 million/year, then at age 65 Bench could make at least $3 million a year. He might need to platoon, though.
    • Joe Janish December 3, 2012 at 1:59 am
      I think Bench in his prime would have to be in the $25M – $30M range.

      Janish? Hmm … about a dollar three-eighty per year.

  2. dansmith December 2, 2012 at 11:56 pm
    I also thought it was a substantial overpay for the same reasons you described, but I can kind of see why the Pirates did it. They have a young, pretty talented pitching staff that could really benefit from a tough-as-nails veteran backstop like Martin, who knows how to stay strong game in and game out through the marathon season, and embrace that overall leadership role behind the plate and in the clubhouse.
    • Joe Janish December 3, 2012 at 2:01 am
      Agreed, the Bucs needed a rock behind the plate who could help mold those young arms. But jeez, that’s a LOT of money! A prime example of supply and demand.
  3. Izzy December 3, 2012 at 9:43 am
    Actually, it shows clearly how much money there is in the game with the new TV deals in place, and how full of manure Alderson is with his daily whines of poverty.