Russell Martin Rumors

NL Central Notes: Martin, Peavy, Shields

In today’s Insider-only blog post (subscription required), ESPN’s Buster Olney discusses the looming free agency of Russell Martin, calling him the “Lamborghini of the catching market” and noting that he is positioned better than perhaps any free agent this offseason. Olney spoke with a number of executives from around the league, with some believing the tipping point for Martin could be whether a team is willing to increase its offer from three years to four, and others believing the tipping point will be whether or not any team offers a fifth guaranteed year. I’m on board with the latter of the two opinions, personally, as I do feel Martin has an exceptionally strong case for a four-year deal. As Olney notes, even if Martin is physically unable to catch a full workload of games by the end of his contract, he’s an exceptional athlete with MLB experience at other positions, so he could be moved around to provide further value as his heavy career workload begins to take its toll.

A few other NL Central items for your afternoon…

  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington recently explained to Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the way in which we the aging curve for players needs to be reevaluated, as many of those models were developed during the PED era, which inflated production into players’ mid-30s. Sawchik provides a graph showing WAR for catchers in their 30s based on three eras: 1980-89, 1990-2004 and 2005-14, in an attempt to isolate the steroid era data. Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron looked at Sawchik’s excellent work and noted that catcher production from ages 32 to 35 in the post-steroid era has remained relatively consistent from a WAR standpoint, adding that framing skills are largely undeterred by age (as noted by Max Marchi of Baseball Prospectus in this 2013 piece).
  • Jake Peavy told reporters, including Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago-Sun Times, that he will be interested to see where his close friend Jon Lester signs this offseason. Peavy had no qualms in stating that he’d like to once again be teammates with his friend: “I’ve certainly talked to Jon Lester because we’re buddies,” said Peavy. “So I have a feel for what he does. And I certainly know that Chicago would interest him and interest me.” Peavy clarified that he’s not suggesting a package deal for the Cubs, but rather, “There’s a package deal out there for any team.” Wittenmyer spoke to a few people close to Peavy who believe the Cubs would be high on his offseason wishlist, however, having spent several years there with the White Sox.
  • In a second piece from Wittenmyer, he writes that sources have told him that James Shields would be the chief fallback option for the Cubs if they don’t land Lester. As Wittenmyer points out, the case for Shields to come to Chicago could be greater if the Cubs land former Rays skipper Joe Maddon. Shields tells Wittenmyer that he enjoyed playing for Maddon very much, though he adds that he hasn’t had any time yet to think about free agency.

NL Notes: Sandoval, Sabean, Martin, Stanton

The World Series continues in San Francisco tonight as the Legend of Panda continues to grow. Here’s the latest on Pablo Sandoval and the rest of the National League:

  • Without an obvious internal replacement at third base, it’s hard to imagine the Giants will let Sandoval leave even if he asks for a deal similar to the one Hunter Pence received, writes Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports. Pence netted a five-year, $90MM deal from the Giants and they have shown a willingness to pay big dollars in order to keep their most identifiable players.
  • The San Francisco Chronicle’s Henry Schulman also isn’t as quick to dismiss Sandoval returning to San Francisco tweeting money flows more freely when a franchise reaches the World Series.
  • Tyler Kepner of the New York Times profiles Giants GM Brian Sabean, who answers those who label him as espousing an “old school” philosophy. “When they hear ‘old school,’ they don’t understand that ‘old school’ is trying to get any and every edge,” Sabean told Kepner. “We’re all looking for the misfit toys. We’re all looking for the guys we can plug in that were overlooked because sometimes, you know what, that’s what you’re down to because your payroll’s your payroll. There’s not enough players to go around, so you better be creative.
  • The Pirates have a delicate balancing act in weighing whether to re-sign Russell Martin, opines Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The Pirates’ dilemma is whether a small-market team should make the financial commitment to retain a signature player and a clubhouse leader or avoid the risk of extending a catcher who might decline significantly over the course of his next contract.
  • Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton provided reporters, including Yahoo! Sports’ Tim Brown, with an update on his recovery from being hit in the face with a pitch in September. “I feel great,” Stanton said after being honored as the NL recipient of the Hank Aaron Award. “It’s a lot better than I thought it was going to be.” Stanton did acknowledge he feels an occasional jab of pain when he chews food and has yet to swing a bat. When he does, will likely wear a face guard.

Russell Martin Declined Pirates’ Mid-Season Extension Offer

Pirates catcher Russell Martin rejected an extension offer made by the team at some point during the season, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. Terms of the offer (or its precise timing) are not known. There are no indications that the sides are close on a late-breaking deal to keep Martin off the market, Heyman adds.

Pittsburgh reportedly has continued interest in bringing back Martin, and this reported mid-season effort lends credence to the idea that they will be serious in pursuit. On the other hand, of course, Martin stands alone among free agent backstops, and plenty of other clubs figure to make a run at him.

The Bucs had preliminary discussions with Martin in the spring, but held off on making an offer. That may have cost the team its window to reach a deal. Martin has delivered plenty of value on the two-year, $17MM deal he signed with Pittsburgh before the 2013 season, and his .290/.402/.430 line in 2014 brought him into a new performance tier. MLBTR’s Charlie Wilmoth profiled Martin’s rising standing in August.



Tigers Notes: Price, Miller, V-Mart, Martin

In the wake of another postseason disappointment for the Tigers, “there’s the underlying question whether this could be the end of an era,” MLB.com’s Jason Beck writes.  Several key members of the roster will hit free agency, including Max Scherzer, though the 2013 Cy Young Award winner said “I do hope I’m back. I love this clubhouse, love everybody in here, been to battle with these guys for five years. It would mean a lot to me.”

Here’s the latest from the Motor City…

  • If Scherzer doesn’t return, the natural next step for the Tigers would be to pursue an extension with David Price, though the southpaw naturally wasn’t concerned with his contract in the wake of the painful ALDS sweep.  “That’s out of my control. That’s the last thing that’s on my mind right now. I’m not worried about that,” Price told reporters, including Mlive.com’s Chris Iott.  Price has one year of arbitration eligibility remaining before hitting the free agent market after the 2015 season.
  • The Tigers’ failure to acquire Andrew Miller at the trade deadline may have been the turning point of their season, John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press writes.  Miller could’ve been prevented the bullpen meltdowns that plagued the Tigers in the ALDS, but instead, he ended up stifling Detroit in two late-game appearances for the Orioles.  The Tigers came very close to closing a deal Miller at the deadline but the Red Sox instead sent the lefty to Baltimore in exchange for top pitching prospect Eduardo Rodriguez.
  • A rival official recently told ESPN’s Buster Olney (Insider subscription required) that he thinks the Tigers will do whatever it takes to re-sign Victor Martinez, as “considering the Tigers’ win-at-all-costs approach and Martinez’s importance in the Detroit lineup, he cannot see them being outbid.”  Olney lists five other teams as possible fits for Martinez in free agency, and three are from the AL Central.
  • Also from Olney’s piece, he lists the Tigers as a potential suitor for Russell Martin.  The free agent catcher could be “a plan B” if the Tigers are concerned about Alex Avila‘s concussion history and want a change behind the plate.

East Notes: Sandoval, Burnett, Shields, Mets

The AL East champion Orioles are looking for their first playoff sweep since they eliminated the A’s in the 1971 ALCS as they face the Tigers in Game Three of their ALDS. The NL East champion Nationals, meanwhile, will look to avoid being swept by the Giants tomorrow in their NLDS.

Here’s the latest from baseball’s East divisions:

  • Pablo Sandoval, with his personality and left-handed bat, would be a good fit for the Red Sox, opines the Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo. Despite Sandoval’s weight issues and a declining OPS over the past four seasons, Cafardo hears the third baseman will command a five-year, $100MM pact with the Yankees and Dodgers joining Boston in the bidding.
  • A.J. Burnett‘s decision whether to exercise his $12.75MM player option will dictate how the Phillies‘ offseason unfolds, according to CSNPhilly.com’s Corey Seidman. If Burnett declines the option, the Phillies will have the financial flexibility required to make impactful free agent signings and begin the necessary roster overhaul, Seidman writes.
  • The James Shields-Wil Myers trade between the Rays and Royals is still under evaluation, notes Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. At this point, who “won” the trade depends on whom you ask.
  • The Mets don’t need a spending spree to improve for 2015, posits Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Of course, it would be nice if they could spend the necessary money to sign free agent catcher Russell Martin, but there are cheaper ways they can upgrade their offense. One idea Sherman has is calling the Red Sox to inquire on a Bartolo Colon for Shane Victorino deal.

Quick Hits: Rangers Rotation, Martin, Trumbo

The Rangers top priority is finding a manager. Their other top priority is building a rotation, writes Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News. The Rangers aren’t expected to “play in the top end of free agency,” according to GM Jon Daniels, but they will need to locate some external rotation help. Even if staff ace Yu Darvish is pronounced healthy and ready to resume throwing in November, the club needs a mid-rotation pitcher to slot after Derek Holland. Grant assumes Colby Lewis will be re-signed (I agree) and the final spot will likely fall to Nick Tepesch or Nick Martinez. Martin Perez is a mid-season option as he works back from Tommy John surgery, and Matt Harrison could potentially slot into the rotation if he recovers from spinal fusion surgery. My own two cents: in order to avoid a repeat of 2014, the Rangers need at least one more viable major league starter than Grant suggests.

  • The Pirates would like to re-sign catcher Russell Martin, says Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The issue – he’s arguably outperformed peers like Yadier Molina, Miguel Montero, and Brian McCann in the seasons leading up to a new contract. Molina signed for $75MM, Montero for $60MM and McCann for $85MM. Martin’s combination of defensive value and stealthy offensive prowess makes one wonder if Molina’s five-year, $75MM deal could be in play. If so, it would be hard for Pittsburgh to flex the muscles necessary to retain him.
  • We haven’t heard much from newly minted Diamondbacks GM Dave Stewart, but he seems to be a fan of Mark Trumbo, according to Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Arizona. With Paul Goldschmidt set to return to first base in 2015, Trumbo will either slot in left or right field. Arizona brought in Trumbo to provide a double threat with Goldschmidt in the middle of the order. While some have looked to him as a trade candidate, it sounds like Stewart is inclined to see what he can do when healthy.

Pirates Willing To Stretch Payroll To Retain Martin

OCT. 1: Pirates owner Bob Nutting has now also voiced a willingness to stretch the payroll to retain Martin, writes Sawchik’s colleague Rob Biertempfel. He quotes Nutting:

“As we’ve made priorities, we’ve found opportunities to stretch. He’s an example of a player we’re going to need to do what we can. We’re going to need to stretch. We’re probably going to go beyond what a rational deal is. He’s a player who we love and respect and we hope he’s back.”

SEPT. 24: While the Pirates have previously had a philosophy of not allocating more than 18 percent of the team’s payroll to one player, the team is rethinking that strategy in anticipation of Russell Martin‘s free agency, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reports. General manager Neal Huntington tells Sawchik that the Pirates are prepared to stretch beyond our normal comfort zone” in order to retain their standout catcher.

Martin’s potential departure from the Pirates has become an increasingly large story, particularly in the Pittsburgh media, given Martin’s dynamic impact on the game and importance to the Pirates’ success. Martin is enjoying a career year at the plate, as he entered play Wednesday with a brilliant .294/.405/.437 batting line. Martin is one of just four players in the Majors with at least 400 plate appearances and an OBP north of .400 (the others being Jose Bautista, Victor Martinez and Martin’s teammate, Andrew McCutchen). Beyond that, he’s regarded as one of the best defensive catchers in the game; he’s caught 39 percent of opposing base-stealers and rates as one of baseball’s best catchers in terms of pitch-framing via both Baseball Prospectus and StatCorner.com.

The 18 percent benchmark was a factor last offseason in determining whether or not the team could retain A.J. Burnett last offseason, Sawchik notes, and it stems from a study to which Huntington contributed when working with the Indians. The study found that no team that has committed 18 percent of its payroll to a single player had won a World Series. That study was done a decade ago, however, and Huntington conceded that it could be outdated.

The Pirates do maintain that they can only pay for a player’s future performance, rather than their past merits, and Martin will be 32 in February. Huntington said that Martin’s offensive performance has even exceeded the Pirates’ highest expectations, and the GM acknowledged that other clubs may be able to one-up the Pirates in the end: “There are other clubs in other markets don’t have to worry about the extra years, or the extra two or four or six million dollars to get a deal done. … That’s the realities of the market and the market size. It’s not the first time we’ve faced, and it is not the last time we will face it.”

Nonetheless, while Huntington has previously noted that the team would “do everything it can” to keep Martin, this is the likely the most encouraging report for Pirates fans to date, as it’s the first that the team has publicly stated a willingness to stretch payroll. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently speculated (on Twitter) on the possibility of Martin topping $50MM. While I personally thought that was aggressive at first, it does seem like an increasingly likely possibility.


Quick Hits: Red Sox, Martin, Cardinals

The Red Sox‘ trades of Jon Lester, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront this summer created opportunities for younger Red Sox starters, but those young pitchers haven’t taken advantage, Tim Britton of the Providence Journal writes. Rubby De La Rosa, Brandon Workman, Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo have all been underwhelming this season. “What that group is learning is that it’s a sizable jump from Triple-A to here,” says manager John Farrell. “It’s a matter of learning challenges at the major-league level.” The Red Sox aren’t necessarily planning for all those pitchers to be successful, and they figure to pursue starters this offseason, but getting one or more solid starters out of the group of De La Rosa, Workman, Webster and Ranaudo would provide a big boost next season. Here’s more from throughout the big leagues.

  • The Pirates‘ organizational philosophy of finding buy-low players is likely to keep them from re-signing impending free agent Russell Martin, David Manel of Bucs Dugout writes. The Pirates appear to be bracing for fan backlash if they don’t re-sign Martin, and GM Neal Huntington points out that his organization might be about to become a “victim of its own success,” as Manel puts it. “Russ is one of those unique circumstances where we got beat up and highly criticized for signing him when we did,” says Huntington. “And if he does walk out the door, we’ll get highly criticized when he does walk out the door.”
  • The results of the Cardinals‘ in-season trades have been mixed, but their outfield has improved thanks to the team’s flexible approach, Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com writes. Justin Masterson hasn’t pitched well and Lackey hasn’t made a huge impact, and Oscar Taveras hasn’t hit well filling in for the departed Allen Craig. The Cardinals have, however, done well in the second half throughout their outfield in general, with Peter Bourjos and Randal Grichuk putting up solid numbers in center and right field, respectively.

NL Central Notes: Martin, Huntington, Brewers, Cubs

As a former player, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly can relate to what Cubs prospects Javier Baez and Arismendy Alcantara are going through, writes David Just of the Chicago Sun-Times. “It’s just a time factor with the young guys,” Mattingly said. “They can look good right away, and the next year they come out and it doesn’t look good. Or they can look kind of shaky and figure a lot of it out. So time is going to tell.” As a youngster, Mattingly got off to a slow start with the Yankees, hitting .278 with a .326 on-base percentage in his first 98 games during the 1982 and ’83 seasons. He then led the American League in hits, doubles, and batting average in 1984.

Here’s the latest from the NL Central:

  • Pirates GM Neal Huntington says re-signing catcher Russell Martin is a priority for the franchise, tweets Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “We are going to try to do everything we can to keep Russ,” said Huntington. “We’d love nothing more than to have (Martin) in a Pirates uniform.
  • Huntington, however, reiterated the Pirates will not veer from their financial philosophy. “We’re going to continue to have to pay guys for what we believe they’re going to do, and not what they’ve done,” said Huntington (as quoted by MLB.com’s Stephen Pianovich). “The bigger markets certainly have luxury to be able to extend much beyond comfort levels to pay an extra year or two, to pave over prior mistakes with more money.
  • Brewers GM Doug Melvin does not “think there’s a need to go out and try to get another starter” and will instead focus on offense this offseason, reports MLB.com’s Adam McCalvy. The Brewers are all but certain to pick up the $13MM option on Yovani Gallardo, McCalvy opines.
  • The Brewers‘ biggest offseason decisions will be the infield corners and whether to exercise Gallardo’s option, according to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in a recent chat. The Brewers will consider both internal and external options at first base, but Haudricourt notes finding productive first basemen is easier said than done.
  • In a separate piece, Haudricourt writes Rickie Weeks is nearing the end of his tenure with the Brewers (his $11.5MM option isn’t expected to be exercised), but the team’s senior member in terms of service time is not thinking about 2015. “I’ll worry about that when the time comes,” Weeks said. “I’m still with the Brewers right now. That’s the way I look at it.
  • What we’d really like is to have a bunch of really good baserunners,” is what Cubs manager Rick Renteria told reporters, including MLB.com’s Carrie Muskat, when asked about the club’s 2015 wish list.

Olney On Qualifying Offer Candidates

In his latest Insider-only blog, ESPN’s Buster Olney runs down a list of pending free agents that are candidates to receive qualifying offers. Olney spoke with several executives from around the league and is of the mind that James Shields, Max Scherzer, Pablo Sandoval, Melky Cabrera, Russell Martin, Nelson Cruz, J.J. Hardy, Victor Martinez, Ervin Santana, David Robertson and Hanley Ramirez will receive qualifying offers, which should fall between $15MM and $15.5MM.

Here are a few more notes from Olney’s piece…

  • The Giants intend to give Sandoval a QO with the assumption that he will reject the offer and test the open market. San Francisco appears willing to offer him just three years, says Olney, and even going to four years might be too much of a stretch. Such a commitment seems much too light to land Sandoval, who, at 28 years old, will be one of the youngest free agents on the market.
  • It looks like the Dodgers and Ramirez could be moving in separate directions, as rival evaluators anticipate the team will extend a qualifying offer with the expectation that Ramirez signs elsewhere.
  • The value of Martin on a one-year deal, even north of $15MM, makes a QO for the Pirates “an easy call,” one rival GM said to Olney. Some may wonder whether or not Francisco Liriano is a QO candidate, but executives polled by Olney feel that his injury history and lack of innings present too much risk for the Bucs to extend such an offer. I’m inclined to agree; while Martin is a lock to turn down the QO, Liriano would have more hesitancy, and a $15MM salary would represent nearly 21 percent of the Pirates’ Opening Day payroll from 2014.
  • Some evaluators think that Cruz will again find himself with a more limited market than he expects due to his age, 2013 PED suspension and the fact that his OBP and defense are less impressive than his power totals.
  • Many rival executives feel there’s simply no way that the Tigers will let Martinez get away. Olney’s right in noting that a QO is “an easy call” for V-Mart, who currently sports a hefty .333/.401/.567 with a career-high 31 homers.
  • Olney also feels that a QO for Robertson is an easy call. While he notes that teams don’t pay $15MM for closers anymore, one evaluator said to him: “…with any other team, we wouldn’t be talking about this. But it’s the Yankees, and they can do it.” On a somewhat related note, Olney adds that Koji Uehara‘s late-season swoon may be a blessing of sorts for the Red Sox, who can now approach him with an offer much lower than a QO would have been. I noted in yesterday’s MLBTR chat that I’d be more hesitant to give Robertson a QO, but the Yankees could certainly afford to run the risk.