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Russell Martin Rumors
Earlier today, we learned that free agent catcher Russell Martin will meet with four teams – the Cubs, Pirates, Dodgers, and Blue Jays. In fact, he’s already met with Chicago. Other clubs may become involved in the bidding, but this is the initial group upon which to focus. Martin’s price is expected to soar due to a dearth of catcher talent on the market.
Initially, it appeared that the Pirates might pull out all the stops to re-sign Martin. The club is thin at catcher with Tony Sanchez and Chris Stewart occupying the top of the depth chart. While the need for Martin is obvious, the ever-increasing rumored cost might push them out of the market.
The Cubs and Dodgers are a better financial fit, since we know both teams can afford Martin at any reasonable cost. They have a decent internal options – Wellington Castillo for the Cubs and A.J. Ellis for the Dodgers – so they’re not desperate for a backstop in the same way as the Pirates. The Cubs recently dismissed a well-regarded manager to hire Joe Maddon, so a similar move at catcher is easy to picture. The Dodgers are supposed to be more financially responsible with Andrew Friedman at the reins. We’ll see if and how that affects their pursuit of Martin.
From the outside, the Blue Jays look like a dark horse candidate, although catcher has been an area of concern since they traded away prospect Travis d’Arnaud. Dioner Navarro and Josh Thole are currently under contract to man the position, but neither player is close to Martin’s talent level.
Of course, the infamous mystery team could rear its head. A few clubs who could conceivably join the fray include the Angels, Tigers, Rangers, Mariners, White Sox, and Nationals.
It is early in the free agent process, but the Cubs have already met with top backstop Russell Martin, Bruce Levine reports for CBS Chicago. Martin is also expected to visit and undertake preliminary discussions with the Pirates, Dodgers, and Blue Jays, according to Levine. It is far from clear, of course, that Martin’s market will ultimately be limited to that group. After all, he figures to draw broad interest around the game.
Incumbent Cubs catcher Welington Castillo struggled with his offense and framing last year, and the big-market Cubs have money to spend, so it’s unsurprising they would have interest in Martin. In Los Angeles, catcher A.J. Ellis hit just .191/.323/.254 last season, and the Dodgers’ new saber-friendly front office will likely place a high value on Martin, particularly given his work behind the plate. The Jays have had internal discussions about pursuing Martin and making current starting catcher Dioner Navarro their primary DH.
The Cubs are preparing to make a run at top free agent catcher Russell Martin, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. That does not come as a significant surprise given Chicago’s apparent spending plans and its current roster alignment; indeed, MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently predicted that the Cubs would ultimately land Martin.
Of course, the Cubs are not the only club with significant interest in Martin, who had an outstanding 2014 campaign and stands alone on the starting catching market. As Heyman notes, the Dodgers, Pirates, Blue Jays, and even Red Sox have been connected to Martin in rumors or by way of analysis. And the list of plausible landing spots is probably longer than that.
At present, Welington Castillo sits atop the Chicago backstop depth chart, with John Baker in reserve. That unit ranked fourth from the bottom last year in terms of fWAR, with Castillo taking a big step back in terms of his offensive output. After two straight years of above-average production at the plate, to go with BABIP tallies that landed just under the .350 mark, Castillo managed only a .237/.296/.389 line over 417 plate appearances, in 2014. And both Stat Corner and Baseball Prospectus are down on his work behind the dish.
Castillo did register double-digit home runs (13) for the first time last year, and remains a valuable young player. But there is little doubt that Martin would represent a significant upgrade.
Today marked the deadline for players to receive one-year, $15.3MM qualifying offers, and after nine players receiving a QO in 2012 and 13 players receiving the offer last offseason, 12 players have been extended a qualifying offer by their teams in 2014. They are:
- Max Scherzer (Tigers)
- Victor Martinez (Tigers)
- David Robertson (Yankees)
- Melky Cabrera (Blue Jays)
- James Shields (Royals)
- Hanley Ramirez (Dodgers)
- Pablo Sandoval (Giants)
- Nelson Cruz (Orioles)
- Russell Martin (Pirates)
- Francisco Liriano (Pirates)
- Michael Cuddyer (Rockies)
- Ervin Santana (Braves)
Should these players reject the offer and sign with a new team, their former team will stand to receive a “sandwich” round draft pick as compensation. Those new teams, in turn, will have to forfeit their top unprotected draft pick. If a player rejects a QO but ultimately re-signs with the same team, no draft pick shuffling occurs.
There will be 11 protected picks in this year’s draft, as the picks of the teams with the 10 worst records are protected under the CBA, and Houston’s comp pick for failure to sign Brady Aiken is protected as well. The D’Backs, Astros, Rockies, Rangers, Twins, Red Sox, White Sox, Cubs, Phillies and Reds will all have their first-round selections protected. Those clubs will instead forfeit a second-round pick to sign a free agent with draft pick compensation attached. Teams can sign more than one free agent that has rejected a QO, as the Orioles did last winter in signing both Ubaldo Jimenez and Cruz. In that instance, Jimenez cost the team its first-round pick, while Cruz cost the club its second-round selection.
The players listed above will now have one week to decide whether or not to accept the QO and play on a one-year deal worth $15.3MM, or instead to or reject the offer in search of a larger guarantee on the open market.
The word “guarantee” is the key to that sentiment: while many will focus on whether or not the players can top that average annual value on the free agent market, more often than not, a player is concerned primarily with maximizing the amount of money he can earn over his prime seasons. Few players are ever sold on the idea of playing on a one-year deal when a multi-year guarantee can be had. Single-year contracts, on the free agent market, are often reserved for older players who don’t know how long they wish to continue playing (e.g. Hiroki Kuroda last winter), players coming off massive injuries (e.g. Corey Hart last winter) or players who have significantly underperformed in a contract year (e.g. Chris Young last offseason).
While upon first glance it might make sense to suggest a player with a spotty track record, such as Liriano, should accept the offer, there’s more downside for him in accepting than in rejecting. Even if Liriano is faced with a cold market, he’d likely be able to find a one-year contract at an AAV north of $10MM, if not a one-year offer commensurate with the total sum of the qualifying offer, as Santana did last offseason when signing a one-year, $14.1MM contract with the Braves. Whereas the downside in accepting is “settling” for a one-year deal a few ticks below the QO level, the upside in rejecting is finding perhaps a three-year deal that could more than double the guarantee he’d otherwise receive. This risk/benefit calculus generally points toward testing the market.
The one case for accepting in this year’s class, that I see, would be that of Cuddyer. Though a solid veteran bat coming off a strong pair of seasons in terms of his rate stats, Cuddyer has defensive limitations and injury questions that will also drag his stock down. He played in just 49 games in 2014 and will play next season at age 36. MLBTR’s Zach Links only pegged his free agent stock at $22MM over two years in his recent Free Agent Profile for Cuddyer. It does seem there’s a real chance that Cuddyer could come in significantly lower than $15.3MM on a one-year deal if he rejects, and the upside may not be much greater for him as a two-year deal may have been the realistic ceiling anyhow.
Reports on whether or not any player will accept the offer should be filtering in over the next week, but those looking for a quick resource to check the status of each can use MLBTR’s Free Agent Tracker (the provided link is already filtered to show only free agents that have received the QO, and their status will change from “Received” to “Rejected” or “Accepted” upon a decision being reached).
The Blue Jays have had internal discussions about signing free agent catcher Russell Martin, Sportsnet.ca’s Jeff Blair reports. Needless to say, the Jays would have to outbid several teams in order to secure Martin, who is easily the top catcher on the open market. The Jays haven’t made any significant payroll expenditures in almost two years, though they’re trying to create some payroll flexibility in order to make some moves this winter, as evidenced by their trade of Adam Lind.
With Martin a sure bet to receive a qualifying offer from the Pirates, the Jays would also have to give up their first-round draft pick (18th overall) as compensation for the signing. While surrendering a first-rounder would represent a shift in Toronto’s front office philosophy, the Blue Jays could get another draft pick back (between the first and second rounds) should Melky Cabrera sign elsewhere this offseason.
Toronto already has Dioner Navarro under contract for one more season, though if Martin signed, Blair notes that Navarro would be shifted into a DH role. One would think Navarro wouldn’t be the primary DH and would split time between that spot and a backup catcher role, though that also raises the possibility that the Jays would part ways with current backup Josh Thole (whose option was picked up for 2015). Since Thole’s primary role with the Jays has been to catch for R.A. Dickey, his future with the team could depend on how well Martin or Navarro could handle the knuckleball.
With Navarro already slated to start, the Jays were an off-the-board contender for Martin and thus not cited by MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes in his Top 50 Free Agent Predictions. Dierkes predicted Martin would sign the Cubs, with the Pirates and Dodgers also standing out as likely bidders.
The Indians should be poised to contend for the AL Central title next year because the Tigers and Royals are going to take a hit in free agency, opines Paul Hoynes of the Northeast Ohio Media Group in the latest edition of his “Hey, Hoynsie” column. Free agency won’t damage the White Sox, Hoynes adds, but they are in need of pitching to complement their power while the Twins are still putting together the pieces after four consecutive seasons of at least 92 losses.
Here’s more on the Indians from Hoynes:
- Manager Terry Francona had clauses inserted into his contract when he was hired by the Indians allowing him to leave if President Mark Shapiro or GM Chris Antonetti are fired. Would Francona ever follow Joe Maddon’s lead? Hoynes notes Andrew Friedman left the Rays voluntarily and isn’t sure whether such a departure by either Shapiro or Antonetti would trigger Francona’s opt-out.
- The Indians will not be bidding on the premier bats available in free agency (e.g. Pablo Sandoval (#5 on MLBTR’s 2014-2015 Top 50 Free Agents list), Victor Martinez (#6), Russell Martin (#8), and Nelson Cruz (#9), according to Hoynes, who sees the club setting their sights on the likes of Michael Morse (#28) and Ryan Ludwick (unranked) once other moves are made.
- Jose Ramirez will be the Indians’ 2015 Opening Day shortstop, Francisco Lindor is probably ticketed for Triple-A, and Zach Walters, acquired in the Asdrubal Cabrera trade, will have to make the team as a bench player.
- The Indians are not in the position of needing to trade their core players, so Hoynes would be surprised if Corey Kluber, Yan Gomes, or Michael Brantley are dealt this winter.
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.
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.
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.
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.