Russell Martin Rumors

Dodgers Notes: Kemp, Lester, Martin

Here’s the latest from Chavez Ravine…

  • The Dodgers were allegedly planning to have a fairly quiet offseason, though given their involvement in several high-profile rumors, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman wonders if the club has changed its tune after seeing their rivals in San Francisco win yet another World Series.  The Dodgers have spent so much time exploring a Matt Kemp trade, for instance, that some feel their efforts have gone beyond due diligence and they’re seriously thinking of moving the outfielder.
  • Andrew Friedman doesn’t mind “noise” about his team’s intentions, and Heyman suggests that the lack of certainty about the Dodgers’ winter plans could be of some use to the team.  For instance, one rival executive thinks the Dodgers’ reported interest in Jon Lester could be a ploy to drive the left-hander’s price up and potentially keep him away from the Giants.  Another rival exec says Lester “really isn’t an L.A. guy” and wouldn’t be prone to sign with a team only due to the money.
  • A source tells Heyman that the Dodgers offered Russell Martin a four-year, $74MM contract.  Though it fell short of the five-year, $82MM deal that Martin received from Toronto, Los Angeles’ offer is the second-largest bid known to have been made for the catcher, topping the Cubs’ reported $70MM offer.
  • Trading Kemp doesn’t make sense for a Dodgers team that’s trying to win now, Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times argues.  Another club isn’t likely to surrender an elite prospect for a player with Kemp’s contract and injury history, so Dilbeck feels the Dodgers are better off keeping their valuable power bat.

Quick Hits: Cabrera, Martin, Cubs, Diamondbacks

There’s still a chance the Blue Jays could re-sign Melky Cabrera, Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star writes. GM Alex Anthopoulos is prepared to wait until Cabrera has a sense of what’s available to him in free agency, and if Cabrera doesn’t find an offer to his liking, he could return to the Jays, possibly on a four- or five-year contract. Here are more notes from around the big leagues.

  • Russell Martin signed with the Jays, but the Cubs were key bidders, the catcher’s agent tells Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago. “There were times throughout the process where it was Toronto and the Cubs, 1 and 2,” says Matt Colleran. “One day the Cubs [were] going a little ahead, and the next Toronto was ahead. When we got into the [last] weekend the dollars started to come into play, and Toronto was just super aggressive with their approach.” The day before Martin and the Blue Jays agreed to terms, the Cubs reportedly were the front-runners to sign him.
  • The Diamondbacks recently began interviews for their open scouting director position, Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic reports. The position opened when the Brewers hired Ray Montgomery away from Arizona. The Diamondbacks’ candidates include Tim Huff (from the Angels), Sam Hughes (Cubs), Sean Johnson (Twins), Deric Ladnier (Nationals), Mark Snipp (Reds) and Tim Wilken (Cubs). The team has also interviewed two internal candidates, Todd Donovan and Bill Gayton. Ladnier, Wilken and Gayton all have experience as scouting directors, and Diamondbacks senior vice president of baseball operations De Jon Watson has suggested the team might prefer a scouting director with experience.

Reactions To And Fallout From Russell Martin Signing

With the Blue Jays set to introduce new catcher Russell Martin and his five-year, $82MM deal tomorrow, let’s take a look at some of the reactions and reporting from around the game:

  • Regarding other teams that were in the mix for Martin, the Cubs were “close” runners-up, according to Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe (Twitter link). Chicago was pushing past the four-year, $65MM mark and was willing to go to five years under some scenarios, Patrick Mooney of CSN Chicago tweets. The Pirates, meanwhile, were willing to go to four years, as Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports, and were involved deep into the process. And we noted earlier today that the Mariners also made a run, per MLB.com’s Anthony Castrovince.
  • The Blue Jays have drawn interest in backstop Dioner Navarro, tweets Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports. But the club does not feel obligated to move him, as he can still function as a backup and part-time DH. Navarro is owed $5MM this season in the second and final year of his contract.
  • ESPN.com’s Keith Law is among the fans of the deal, via Insider link, writing that Martin is probably good enough by traditional measures to justify the deal, but also shines in areas like pitch framing, staff handling, and leadership. Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca likewise highlighted Martin’s multi-faceted value. Navarro is likely more useful to Toronto as a trade piece than a part-timer, Law suggests.
  • Adding Martin likely takes the Jays out of the running for Melky Cabrera, tweets ESPN.com’s Buster Olney. It does bear noting that Martin’s backloaded deal structure still seems to leave the team space to add payroll this year, and Toronto still has plenty of open spending capacity after 2015.


Blue Jays Sign Russell Martin

Toronto-born Russell Martin is heading home, as the Blue Jays have officially announced a five-year deal with the free agent backstop (in both English and French).  Martin, who is represented by agent Matt Colleran, will reportedly be guaranteed $82MM over the life of the contract, which is said not to have a no-trade clause, as per the Jays’ team policy.

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Pittsburgh Pirates

It was just yesterday that the Cubs were reported as the leading bidders for Martin’s services, as FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal said Chicago was offering a deal in the four-year, $64MM range.  Rosenthal did warn that the Jays were still in the mix and indeed, Toronto ended up sealing the deal by giving Martin what Peter Gammons described as “McCann money” — a contract that fell just shy of the five-year, $85MM pact that Brian McCann received from the Yankees last winter.  Martin will reportedly earn $7MM in 2015, $15MM in 2016 and $20MM annually from 2017-19.

The contract is a major commitment to a catcher who will turn 32 years old in February, though MLBTR’s Steve Adams projected Martin would find a five-year deal given both the thin catching market and Martin’s obvious talents.  Martin hit .290/.402/.430 with 11 homers in 460 plate appearances for the Pirates last season, and is one of the game’s best defensive catchers both in terms of pitch-framing and throwing out baserunners.

Martin’s deal is the second-largest contract in Blue Jays team history and easily the biggest deal handed out in Alex Anthopoulos’ tenure as general manager.  (Anthopoulos’ previous highs were signing Maicer Izturis for three years and signing Melky Cabrera for $16MM).  Toronto also has a team policy of not issuing contracts for longer than five years, so they went right to the limit of their in-house maximum to clinch the deal.  Between the Martin signing and the trades of Anthony Gose and Adam Lind (for Devon Travis and Marco Estrada, respectively), the Jays have been one of the offseason’s busiest teams, a far cry from their relative inactivity both last winter and at last July’s trade deadline.

The Jays weren’t thought to be in the market for a catching upgrade this winter since they already had Dioner Navarro under contract through the 2015 season. Navarro had a solid 2.0 fWAR in 2014 and could be moved into a platoon DH role, or he could become trade bait.  Backup Josh Thole could also be a trade candidate if Martin or Navarro can adapt to catching R.A. Dickey‘s knuckleball, as Thole has largely served as Dickey’s personal catcher over his two seasons in Toronto.

In losing Martin, the Pirates lose both a clubhouse leader and a key reason why the team reached the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.  Pittsburgh’s acquisition of Francisco Cervelli seemed like a sign that they had moved on from Martin, as it seemed unlikely that the Bucs would be able to match the high bids for Martin on the open market.

Still, the Pirates are more than satisfied with the return on their original two-year, $17MM investment in Martin and they’ll now receive an extra draft pick as compensation.  Because Martin rejected the Bucs’ qualifying offer, Pittsburgh gets a bonus pick between the first and second rounds of the 2015 draft.  The Blue Jays, meanwhile, will surrender their first-rounder (17th overall).

Peter Gammons (Twitter link) first reported that the Jays had agreed to terms with Martin.  CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported the contract length, the lack of a no-trade clause, and the year-to-year breakdown.  FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal was the first to report the $82MM figure.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Cubs Appear To Be Front-Runners For Russell Martin

9:59pm: Rosenthal tweets that the Blue Jays could also be seriously involved in the pursuit for Martin. The Tigers worried that the Jays would outbid them for Victor Martinez, Rosenthal writes, seemingly implying that the Jays have the funds needed to land Martin, who looks like he might end up signing a similar contract.

8:43pm: Executives involved in negotiations with free agent catcher Russell Martin believe the Cubs are the leading bidders, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets. Rosenthal further suggests that the negotiations are heading toward a deal in the range of four years and $64MM, a bit less than the five years and $72.5MM MLBTR’s Steve Adams recently projected for Martin.

The other teams most strongly connected to Martin have been the Dodgers, Blue Jays and Pirates, although the Pirates recently traded for Francisco Cervelli, a possible indication that they feel it’s unlikely they can re-sign their catcher. They extended Martin a qualifying offer, which he declined. The Cubs’ top pick (No. 9 overall) is protected, so they’ll only have to give up their second-round pick if they sign Martin.

A report early in November indicated that the Cubs intended to pursue Martin. The team intends to be a major bidder for top free agents this offseason, and Martin represents a significant offensive upgrade over incumbent Welington Castillo. Also, Martin excels at framing and has gotten excellent marks for his work with pitchers, two good traits for a team aiming to develop young pitching.


Free Agent Profile: Russell Martin

Russell Martin‘s last venture into the free agent market resulted in a two-year, $17MM contract with the Pirates — though Pittsburgh reportedly also offered a three-year, $21MM pact — that proved to be one of the best signings in recent history. Martin’s free agent stock has soared, and he now has a case to more than triple the total commitment on his last contract.

Strengths/Pros

Martin is coming off of arguably the strongest season of his career, having batted .290/.402/.430 with 11 home runs. His on-base percentage is the result of an excellent walk rate, 12.8 percent, that he has sustained throughout his entire career as a Major Leaguer (11.6 percent). Martin exhausts opposing pitchers, as evidenced by the fact that among players with 450+ plate appearances this season, Martin ranked ninth in pitches per PA at 4.21.

Russell  MartinMartin’s .402 OBP would look solid next to any player, but it’s particularly impressive for a catcher. And even in 2013 when he batted .226/.327/.377, his park-adjusted numbers were better than the typical catcher. Martin has spent the past two seasons playing in PNC Park, which among baseball’s worst parks for right-handed hitters, perhaps deflating his rate stats. Yet he posted a park-adjusted OPS+ of 100 (league average) and 136 (36 percent above average) in 2013 and 2014, respectively. His wRC+ marks, also park-adjusted and on the same 100-point scale, were 102 and 140. For context, the league-average catcher has posted a 92 wRC+ over the past two seasons.

Catcher defense has become better quantified in recent seasons, and Martin’s among the best defensive backstops in baseball. He threw out 39 percent of potential base-stealers in 2014 and 40 percent in 2013, and his career average is 32 percent. This past season, the average MLB catcher caught 28 percent of runners. Pitch framing has also become an oft-cited component of a catcher’s worth (though it isn’t included in WAR), and Martin was among the league leaders in that category. StatCorner.com’s Matthew Carruth rated him 11.7 runs above average in framing, while Baseball Prospectus estimates that Martin netted his pitchers and extra 155 strikes despite not playing a full season.

In addition to his work both at and behind the plate, Martin is somewhat surprisingly fleet of foot for a catcher. That’s not to say he’s a burner, but he’s graded out as an average baserunner for his career and has dipped to only slightly below average on the bases in recent seasons (Fangraphs pegged him 1.1 runs below average in 2014). He’s also highly durable, having been on the DL just twice in his career (he did also undergo offseason knee surgery in 2011).

Weaknesses/Cons

Though the “strength” portion of Martin’s profile is rather robust, he’s not a player without his faults. Martin probably won’t repeat his sensational offensive numbers next year, or any other year for that matter. That .290 average was supported by a career-high .336 BABIP, and that BABIP should regress toward his career mark of .289 next year. Martin showed double-digit homer pop again in 2014, but his .140 isolated power mark (slugging minus average) was his lowest since 2010.

Martin turns 32 in February, so this next contract is going to offer little in terms of prime-age seasons. The team that signs him will likely be paying for his decline phase — and more so than with a typical free agent hitter. Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review recently looked at the aging curve for catchers in the post-PED era and found that there isn’t a significant WAR drop-off from catchers’ age 32-35 seasons, and Martin is of course a fantastic athlete who keeps himself in incredible shape. While those factors may help his cause a bit, there’s no way around the fact that teams are going to have reservations about committing long-term to someone who plays the most physically demanding position on the field as he enters his mid-30s.

The Pirates made the easy call to extend a qualifying offer to Martin, who of course rejected, so he will require a team to forfeit its top unprotected pick in order to sign him.

Personal

Martin keeps himself in outstanding shape and began undergoing Muscle Activation Techniques (MAT) to help mend a balky hamstring, Bill Brink of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote in September. Also from Brink, Martin regularly does pilates and implemented a strict weightlifting routine this season to keep his strength up through the entire year. As ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick writes, Martin can often be found kicking a soccer ball around with teammates before games. Crasnick calls him a “born supe-jock,” noting that Martin enjoys playing ice hockey and doing yoga, and also entertains his teammates by walking on his hands with ease.

Per the Pirates media guide, the Canadian-born Martin spent three years living in France from ages 8-10. His middle name, Coltrane, is a nod to famed jazz musician John Coltrane, which is no surprise considering the fact that Martin’s father is an accomplished saxophonist. In 2009, Martin announced that he would donate $600K to the One Drop foundation, which seeks to combat poverty by providing access to clean water around the world.

Market

Martin excels at most facets of the game when compared to other catchers, but he’s even more impressive when stacked up against a weak crop of free agents this year. Simply put, he’s the prize of the catching market, and it’s not close. Geovany Soto, Nick Hundley, A.J. Pierzynski, John Buck and J.P. Arencibia are among the other options. The latter three were designated for assignment in 2014, while Hundley’s $5MM option was declined and Soto has hit .219/.291/.381 over the past three seasons. A team in need of a surefire starter behind the plate has two options: sign Martin or trade for a catcher.

And while the trade market may seem a good alternative, there aren’t many readily available regulars. The trade market for catchers is weak enough that Hank Conger, who has never served as a full-time option, got a respectable return for the Angels. The other options on the market are names like Jason Castro, Miguel Montero and Yasmani Grandal. Grandal and Castro are coming off down seasons at the plate, and Montero is owed $40MM over the next three seasons. Backup type options such as Rene Rivera and Carlos Corporan could also be had (though Rivera, coming off a surprisingly excellent season in San Diego, may be seen as more than that).

There’s been no shortage of early interest in Martin, though the four teams that appear to have been the most aggressive are the Pirates, Dodgers, Cubs and Blue Jays. The Pirates have long said they would love to retain Martin, and both owner Bob Nutting and GM Neal Huntington have said they’re willing to stretch payroll to make it happen.

Martin met with the Cubs, Blue Jays, Dodgers and Pirates this week at the GM Meetings, according to reports, and it’d be surprising if agent Matt Colleran didn’t at least explore talks with several more clubs. Those four teams appear to be the front-runners at this stage, however. If other teams are brought into the mix, I’d think that the Rockies, Astros, A’s, Rangers, Tigers and White Sox could be fits for Martin, though it’s unclear that all of those teams could actually afford him.

Expected Contract

When it comes to the free agent market, Martin is the lone starting catcher in a sea of backups and reclamation projects coming off injuries, poor performances or both. Despite his age and lack of pop when compared to Brian McCann, I’d be surprised if Colleran isn’t citing McCann’s five-year, $85MM contract from last winter as a talking point.

I feel that four years is the absolute floor for Martin, given his interest, and it’s hard to see him taking an annual value that’s much lower than McCann’s $17MM if he has to sacrifice a full year. Ultimately, I think there will be several teams involved and willing to go four years, but the team that pushes to a fifth year will be the one to land him. That fifth year will require him to take a hit on his annual value, and I think anything in the $70-75MM range is plausible, so I’m splitting the difference and projecting a five-year, $72.5MM contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Free Agent Notes: Sandoval, Miller, Martin, Gomes, Carter

The Red Sox are trying to set up a visit to Boston for Pablo Sandoval, perhaps as early as next week, reports the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Sandoval has drawn interest from four clubs, per Cafardo, but the Red Sox and Giants are the two most serious suitors. David Ortiz has been pitching Boston to Sandoval and trying to persuade him away from San Francisco, Cafardo hears.

Some more free agent notes as baseball news slows down following the conclusion of the GM Meetings…

  • A hefty 22 teams have reached out to agent Mark Rodgers regarding Andrew Miller, reports Jon Heyman of CBS Sports (Twitter link). Heyman adds that one team that’s unlikely to make a play for Miller is the Cubs, who are more focused on lengthening their ‘pen with lower-profile acquisitions. Reports yesterday indicated that the Cubs were out on David Robertson as well.A
  • Heyman also writes that the Dodgers are serious about making a run at Russell Martin but still facing competition from the Cubs, Pirates and Blue Jays. The Pirates, Heyman hears, are said to have already made a strong bid to retain Martin. Despite their acquisition of Francisco Cervelli, he notes, the Pirates are not out on Martin.
  • Six clubs have shown interest in Jonny Gomes to this point, tweets Chris Cotillo of SB Nation’s MLB Daily Dish. The Cubs are believed to be one of those clubs, though Gomes isn’t close to any kind of decision and is still “early in the process.”
  • Right-hander Anthony Carter, who spent this past season in Japan, will not have his mutual option with the Nippon-Ham Fighters exercised, MLBTR has learned. Carter technically has to clear waivers in Japan before he can become a free agent and become eligible to sign with a Major League organization or a different club in NPB. The 28-year-old posted a 3.97 ERA in 45 1/3 innings of relief in Japan this season and has a lifetime 4.93 ERA at Triple-A. His best season came in 2013 with the Red Sox when he posted a 3.47 ERA with 11.4 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 at Triple-A.

Sherman On Burnett, Josh Johnson, Johan Santana

The latest from Joel Sherman of the New York Post…

  • Sherman notes that in the past, A.J. Burnett signed close to his Maryland home because his wife hated flying.  However, agent Darek Braunecker says this is no longer a restriction.  Sherman mentions previous interest from the Angels and Rangers.  Burnett is wise to expand his market, since teams like the Orioles, Mets, and Nationals are not generally looking to add starting pitching.
  • The Padres are working to re-sign Josh Johnson.  They already declined a $4MM option on the righty, who had Tommy John surgery in late April.  No deal is close for Johnson, tweets Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish.
  • The Dodgers have let teams know they prefer to trade Andre Ethier and/or Carl Crawford and will listen on Matt Kemp.  The Dodgers are willing to kick in cash or take a bad contract back, and will pay more down for a better return in players.  This is one of the few ways teams can still use financial clout to purchase young talent, in my opinion.  Sherman says the Dodgers feel their current outfield situation is untenable, which fits with Ken Rosenthal’s report from Sunday.  In a poll of 28 baseball industry insiders by ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick, Ethier was considered the most likely to be traded.
  • The Dodgers are also looking to add to their rotation and bullpen and are among the more interested suitors for Russell Martin.  The Dodgers were one of four teams recently revealed to have a meeting in place with Martin’s agent.
  • Johan Santana is “hellbent on coming back,” agent Chris Leible tells Sherman.  Santana, 36 in March, was close to returning to the Majors with the Orioles last summer after April 2013 shoulder surgery, but he ruptured his Achilles tendon in June.  Santana is currently jogging and playing catch.

Blue Jays Notes: Martin, Kawasaki, Phillies

The Blue Jays are in on several top free agents as the offseason kicks off.  They’ll meet with Pablo Sandoval‘s agent Gustavo Vasquez today, according to Shi Davidi of Sportsnet.ca.  Reps for Victor Martinez spoke to the Jays recently, and there’s reportedly a meeting on the books with Russell Martin‘s agent as well.  Further details on Canada’s team…

  • Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos preached flexibility yesterday.  According to Davidi, Anthopoulos said, “We’re going to try to take the best player available, and we’re not locked into one thing, like we need a defender at first base, we need a pure DH. It depends on what becomes available to us.”  Edwin Encarnacion can be deployed at first base or DH, while third base could be opened up by using Brett Lawrie at second.
  • Martin, a Canada native, turned down the Blue Jays before the 2010 season because the Yankees offered more playing time behind the plate, according to Davidi.  Davidi feels that of all the Blue Jays rumors, Martin may be the one with the most substance.
  • The Jays are looking at Anthony Gose and Kevin Pillar in center field next year, barring a trade.
  • Infielder Munenori Kawasaki is leaning toward a return to Japan, but Davidi says he might be swayed by a Major League contract.
  • The Jays called the Phillies about Cole Hamels, Chase Utley, and Antonio Bastardo, according to Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun.

Pirates Make Qualifying Offers To Martin, Liriano

NOVEMBER 9: Martin will decline the qualifying offer prior to Monday’s deadline, reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com. The move comes as no surprise given the strong market developing for his services. As we learned yesterday, the Pirates, Cubs, Dodgers, and Blue Jays are the early front runners.

NOVEMBER 3: The Pirates have extended one-year, $15.3MM qualifying offers to both Russell Martin and Francisco Liriano, the team announced.

Both moves have been expected to varying degrees. Martin was seen as the likelier candidate, but Liriano is coming off a pair of strong, albeit injury-shortened seasons, and figures to seek a more lucrative multi-year deal on the open market.

Martin batted .290/.402/.430 for the Pirates this season and has come to be regarded as one of the game’s most elite defensive backstops based on his ability to control the running game and his exceptional pitch-framing skill. Liriano, meanwhile, pitched to a 3.38 ERA with 9.7 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 in 168 innings this season and turned in a combined 3.20 ERA in 323 1/3 innings with the Pirates over the past two seasons.

Both Liriano and Martin will now have one week to decide whether or not to accept the offers. In Martin’s case, with his rumored price tag soaring north of $50MM over the past couple of months, conventional wisdom says that he’ll turn the offer down. Some may find Liriano a better bet to accept the offer, and while that’s true, doing so would expose him to the risk of an injury or a down season. It seems more likely to me that he’ll decline the QO in search of a multi-year deal, looking to the case of Ervin Santana last year as a worst-case scenario. Santana declined the $14.1MM qualifying offer from Kansas City and still signed a one-year, $14.1MM contract with the Braves months later. (Santana also received a QO of his own earlier today.) By declining the offer, Liriano is at most risking a few million dollars, as even with a draft pick attached, he could likely find $12MM+ on a one-year deal, if not the entire value of the QO as Santana did last season. However, accepting would be risking the upside of $15-20MM more than the QO on the open market.

MLBTR readers can keep track of all players who receive a qualifying offer by using our Free Agent Tracker.