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Russell Martin Rumors
Earlier in the week, we learned the Mets expect to maintain a steady payroll in the low-to-mid-$80MM range. Although the club may prefer to avoid trading from their pitching depth or adding significant payroll, they’ll need to be opportunistic to succeed in 2015, writes The New York Post’s Joel Sherman. The club is well aware that free agent signings can backfire and pitching depth can vanish with the pop of a couple ligaments. Per Sherman, the New York’s perceived plan to spend when fans return to the ballpark is “backwards.” The franchise spends less on player salaries than the mid-market Braves, yet they have powerful potential revenue streams from their Northeast location, relatively new stadium, and TV network. Sherman suggests the club remain open to signing a few veterans like Melky Cabrera, Jed Lowrie, or Mike Morse. An alternative source of value could be to pick up possible castoffs like Matt Kemp or Jose Reyes.
- Alderson is “right” to note that money doesn’t equate to success, says Bill Madden of the New York Daily News. Madden emphasizes the Mets woeful performance in recent free agent markets, but he also believes the club should be open to expanding payroll in the right move – including trades. He mentions Red Sox outfielder Yoenis Cespedes as a sort of ideal trade target.
- Russell Martin is a stealth MVP candidate and the Pirates need to re-sign him, writes David Golebiewski of GammonsDaily.com. Martin blends offense and defense at a critical position. While the Pirates are generally penny pinchers, they should do what is necessary to retain the 31-year-old free agent. In addition to his personal virtues, Pittsburgh lacks a viable internal replacement. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes believes “a four-year deal north of $50MM” to be possible.
In his latest piece for ESPN.com, Jerry Crasnick examines how vital a piece of the Pirates‘ success Russell Martin has become. While his two-year, $17MM deal was initially viewed as an overpay by some after a so-so season in New York, he’s become an indispensable asset. Said GM Neal Huntington: “Russ has put us in a position where we got crushed when we brought him in, and if we let him go out the door, we’re gonna get crushed again.” As Crasnick notes, the Rangers, Rockies, Tigers, Dodgers, Cubs and White Sox could all be players in a thin crop of free agent catchers this offseason. Martin spoke to Crasnick as well, explaining that given the proximity to the end of the season, it simply makes sense to see what his options are in free agency. He did profess a love of playing in Pittsburgh, although Pirates fans may be troubled to hear that a more aggressive approach in Spring Training could have helped to retain their backstop: “If there would have been something done in spring training, it would have been a different story,” Martin told Crasnick. I agree with Crasnick’s take that a contract between Carlos Ruiz‘s three-year, $26.5MM contract and Miguel Montero‘s five-year, $65MM deal seems attainable. MLBTR’s Tim Dierkes recently noted that a $50MM figure seems plausible.
Here’s more from the game’s Central divisions…
- MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon opines that the Reds should shut down Joey Votto for the season rather than rush him back for the final week or so of a non-contending season. Even if Votto appeared to be 100 percent, he would still risk re-injury, while the focus should be on making sure he’s fully healthy for 2015, when the team will desperately need him.
- Jason Kipnis tells Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer that he pressed too hard early in the season as he tried to live up to the expectations set by his contract extension with the Indians. However, he does feel that this is something he can learn from: “I can change,” said Kipnis. “I can come to the realization that I have that in my back pocket and just go out and enjoy myself and play the game.”
- Following the trade of Gordon Beckham to the Angels, second base has become a position of flux for the White Sox, writes MLB.com’s Scott Merkin. Top prospect Micah Johnson has been shut down for the year due to an injury, but he’ll be firmly in the mix with Carlos Sanchez and Marcus Semien, both of whom are getting looks over the season’s final month. Manager Robin Ventura offered high praise for what he’s seen of Sanchez thus far, calling him a smart player and saying that it’s easy to see why the organization was so high on him.
- Twins pitching prospect Lewis Thorpe has been diagnosed with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament in his left arm, Mike Beradino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press writes. It’s been a rough year for Minnesota prospects, as Miguel Sano had Tommy John surgery, Byron Buxton missed much of the year with wrist and concussion issues, and Alex Meyer experiencing shoulder discomfort in his final start of the season. The Australian-born Thorpe has soared up Twins prospect rankings since signing, and Baseball Prospectus ranked him as the game’s No. 101 prospect prior to the season. He posted a 3.52 ERA with 10.0 K/9 and 4.5 BB/9 in 71 2/3 innings as an 18-year-old at Class A. As Berardino notes in a followup piece, Thorpe isn’t expected to need Tommy John surgery and will rehab in the fall instructional league.
After Braves CEO Terry McGuirk told Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that “everyone is accountable” in Atlanta, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports wonders if General Manager Frank Wren and manager Fredi Gonzalez could be in trouble. Gonzalez oversees an offense that often looks lost and is next-to-last in the National League in runs per game. Wren, meanwhile, gave contracts to second baseman Dan Uggla (who has since been released) and center fielder B.J. Upton that didn’t pan out.
While anything is possible given their recent struggles, people in the industry would be surprised if the Braves made major changes, unless tension is building underneath the surface that people aren’t aware of. Wren is close with McGuirk, major league sources say, and Gonzalez was Wren’s hand-picked choice to replace Bobby Cox. Here’s more from today’s column..
- The Pirates want to keep Russell Martin, but the veteran’s price in free agency could be too rich for their blood. The 31-year-old will be the best and youngest catcher on the market by far and even though catchers historically don’t cash in in free agency, he won’t be had for another two-year, $17MM bargain. He won’t garner something like Miguel Montero‘s five-year, $60MM extension but he should at least beat the three-year, $26MM free-agent deal that the Carlos Ruiz signed last winter entering his age 35 season. Pittsburgh could try to keep Martin with a one-year, ~$15MM qualifying offer, but as Rosenthal notes, they didn’t do that with A.J. Burnett last winter. Martin ranked ninth in Tim Dierkes’ most recent Free Agent Power Rankings for MLBTR. Dierkes suggested Martin could receive a four-year deal north of $50MM.
- Rosenthal wouldn’t be surprised if Joe McEwing winds up as the next manager of the Diamondbacks. Even if he doesn’t land with Arizona, White Sox officials say McEwing’s intelligence and energy will make him a strong candidate for other jobs.
- Drew Smyly is benefiting from the Rays‘ focus on analytics. Upon joining the team, the Rays gave the 25-year-old some keen instruction and asked him elevate his fastball more. Those tips have led to some great work by Smyly in Tampa Bay and Rosenthal wonders why the Tigers didn’t pick up on some of the same things.
- The Orioles lost catcher Matt Wieters, but the makeshift combination of rookie Caleb Joseph and Nick Hundley, acquired from the Padres in May, has proven quite adequate. The two have combined for an OPS right around the American League average at catcher.
- While the Mets like second baseman Dilson Herrera, Rosenthal says that doesn’t mean they should trade Daniel Murphy. No team will give the Mets comparable offensive talent for Murphy and the smart move would be to instead sign him to an extension.
Russell Martin‘s current two-year, $17MM deal, which remains the largest free-agent contract in Pirates history, received mixed reviews when it was signed. Now, though, it’s clear the deal was a coup for the Bucs, and Martin’s impending free agency raises fascinating questions about how to balance his unusual skill set and the lack of impact catchers on next offseason’s free agent market against the worrisome aging patterns of backstops in their thirties.
Martin was a key to the Pirates’ breakout 94-win season in 2013. He hit a modest .226/.327/.377, but he still contributed 4.1 fWAR thanks to his exceptional defense, and he may have added a bit of value even beyond that thanks to his well regarded pitch framing. This season, he might be even more helpful despite missing time with a hamstring strain — his .417 OBP so far this season is an amazing 107 points above league average, and his defense again grades very well, with 9 Defensive Runs Saved above average so far.
Martin’s excellent performance in 2014 couldn’t be better timed. Now that Kurt Suzuki has signed an extension with the Twins, there won’t really be any other starting catchers on the free agent market, unless one counts players like Geovany Soto or A.J. Pierzynski. Teams like the Dodgers, Rockies and possibly Blue Jays or Cubs would all make some degree of sense as potential suitors for Martin, and the Pirates would surely love to have him back at the right price, so the market for him should be robust.
Dollar figure and contract length are always important considerations for free agents, but in Martin’s case they’re even more crucial than usual. Neal Huntington has already implied that the cost-conscious Bucs aren’t likely to be serious bidders, even though it’s a steep drop from Martin to presumptive 2015 starting catcher Tony Sanchez. A team like the Rangers might be unwilling to block a terrific catching prospect in Jorge Alfaro by signing Martin to a lengthy contract, and therefore could simply settle on Robinson Chirinos until Alfaro is ready. The same goes for the Red Sox, who have Christian Vazquez at the big-league level and Blake Swihart on the way.
Then there’s the more general problem of how to value an aging catcher. Martin will be 32 in February, and aging patterns for catchers that age are brutal, to put it mildly. Recent history is full of good starting catchers who struggled to maintain their value into their thirties, like Kenji Johjima, Ramon Hernandez and former Pirate Jason Kendall. Others, like Charles Johnson and Michael Barrett, fell off the table at an even younger age than Martin is now. Brian McCann, who’s signed to a five-year contract and who’s even younger than Martin, might end up providing another cautionary tale. Martin is a unique player with good conditioning habits, and his defense should give him value even if his offense falters, but history isn’t on his side.
On top of that, Martin’s remarkable .290/.417/.391 2014 season likely wouldn’t be sustainable even if he were younger. After five straight years of a BABIP of .287 or lower, his BABIP is .354 this season. Martin’s excellent plate discipline is legitimate, but his batting average is more likely to be something like .240 or .250, rather than .290, going forward.
These warning signs will be perfectly clear to most teams, and it’s likely that whoever signs Martin will be hoping to get good value at the start of the contract, with that value declining sharply as the contract progresses. It’s tough to find precedents for a Martin deal, since few catchers sign long free-agent deals, but he should be able to receive at least three years, and perhaps four, at north of $10MM per season. Barring an injury down the stretch, he’ll surely be in line for more than the three years and $26MM Carlos Ruiz received from the Phillies last year, but far less than the five years and $85MM McCann got.
The Ruiz contract suggests Martin will get a hefty payday, although Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s recent deal points in the other direction. Saltalamacchia posted 3.6 WAR last season before hitting the market as a 28-year-old and only got $21MM over three years, even though the Red Sox didn’t extend him a qualifying offer. For Martin, a three-year deal in the range of $12MM-13MM per season might make sense, or possibly a four-year contract worth slightly less per season. Martin could also try for a higher average annual value by taking a two-year deal, although, given his age, he probably has incentive to prefer more seasons and more guaranteed money, since he’s not likely to get another big contract after this offseason.
One can see, then, why a return to the Pirates appears so unlikely — the Bucs were unwilling to extend a $14.1MM qualifying offer to A.J. Burnett last season, explaining that their budget made it difficult to build a competitive team while committing so heavily to one player. It’s difficult, then, to see them committing to pay a similar annual salary to a player for three or four years, particularly when getting little from that player at the end of the contract could be disastrous for them. The Burnett situation also raises questions about whether the Pirates will extend Martin a qualifying offer after the season, potentially affecting his market. They will probably have a stronger incentive to do so with Martin than they did with Burnett, given that there’s less of a chance Martin would accept.
Less thrifty teams would likely have fewer concerns than the Pirates would, and might also be more inclined to pursue Martin because of his perceived value even beyond his peripherals — he’s widely regarded as a thoughtful player and leader who’s helpful with pitchers. The most likely outcome (although it’s far from certain at this point) is that Martin winds up with a three-year deal from a bigger-payroll team.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reported over the weekend that the Braves explored a trade prior to the deadline that would’ve sent B.J. Upton and a starting pitcher elsewhere. David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Twitter link) has another detail on this scuttled trade, saying that the Braves would’ve taken on “a contract [the] other team [was] looking to shed.” It sounds like it would’ve essentially been a swap of one bad contract (the roughly $50MM owed to Upton through 2017) for another, though if Atlanta was willing to move a starter as well, the other contract was likely for a shorter term. It’ll be interesting to see if the identities of the mystery team and mystery player are revealed in the coming weeks or months but until then, let the guessing game begin!
Here’s some more from around the baseball world…
- Russell Martin‘s plan to take a short-term contract and rebuild his value for a richer, longer-term deal seems to have paid off, MLB.com’s Tom Singer and Stephen Pianovich write. Martin has a .743 OPS over his two seasons with the Pirates and is hitting .290/.417/.391 over 308 PA this year, which makes him easily the most attractive catcher available in this winter’s free agent market. Martin says he loves playing in Pittsburgh, though Singer/Pianovich note that the Bucs are unlikely to be able to afford his asking price and prospect Tony Sanchez is waiting in the wings.
- The 2015 Giants could be improved by moving Buster Posey to third base and Tim Lincecum to the bullpen, Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News opines. Lincecum’s value as a starter is diminishing but (as the 2012 postseason indicated) he could be a dominant force as a reliever or closer. If Pablo Sandoval leaves in free agency, Kawakami argues that Posey could slide to third in order to help him stay healthy and perhaps lead to more production at the plate. Posey already plays a lot of first base and Kawakami doesn’t mention another possibility I think the Giants could consider, which is trading Brandon Belt.
- Speaking of next year’s Giants team, CSNBayArea.com’s Andrew Baggarly points out that at least $125MM is already committed to a roster that still has a big hole to address at second base and five key free agents (Sandoval, Michael Morse, Sergio Romo, Ryan Vogelsong, Jake Peavy) to re-sign or replace. With payroll stretched so thin both this season and next, Baggarly says the team simply doesn’t have the resources to explore replacing struggling players like Lincecum or Brandon Crawford.
- The Astros could return to respectability by adding a few veteran players in an attempt to follow the model of the 2003 Tigers, Grantland’s Jonah Keri opines. Those Tigers responded to an infamous 119-loss season by signing veteran free agents over the next few years, who mixed well with a young core and led the team to an AL pennant by 2006.
Here’s the latest out of the National League …
- The Reds are interested in Cuban free agent pitcher Raisel Iglesias, reports Ben Badler of Baseball America (via Twitter). A team official told Badler that a deal was not in place at this time, however. Badler recently reported that the righty was granted an extended signing window by MLB, and will be free to sign through July 1 without being subject to international spending limitations.
- Brewers righty Brad Mills has an opt-out provision in his minor league deal that was triggered on Sunday, but can only be exercised if he has an offer from a team that would put him on its 25-man roster, reports Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Mills, 29, has impressed at Triple-A, with a 1.56 ERA and 9.2 K/9 against 2.2 BB/9 through 75 innings (including 12 starts). As Rosiak notes, however, Milwaukee seems relatively uninterested in using him at the big league level at present.
- If the Pirates decide to open extension talks with catcher Russell Martin, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review estimates that it could take a three-year, $39MM offer to make a deal. Martin, who signed a two-year, $17MM pact to come to Pittsburgh, has posted a strong .275/.409/.400 line this year, which is the best pace he’s carried since his excellent 2006-08 seasons with the Dodgers. In the intervening five years, Martin has averaged a .234/.332/.370 triple-slash, though he has consistently earned stellar defensive ratings. After Martin, pickings are fairly slim on next year’s free agent market for backstops, with players like Kurt Suzuki, A.J. Pierzynski, Geovany Soto, and Nick Hundley leading the way.
- The Mets have no intention of releasing struggling outfielder Chris Young, reports Adam Rubin of ESPN.com. Young has posted a meager .196/.283/.313 line in 185 plate appearances since joining the club on a one-year, $7.25MM pact. While the team would like to be able to deal him, presumably eating some salary to make that happen, a team official tells Rubin that New York does not expect to find much of a market for his services.
- As expected, Dodgers starter Chad Billingsley will undergo season-ending surgery on his right elbow, reports Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com. It seems all but certain that the club will opt to pay Billingsley a $3MM buyout rather than picking up his $14MM option for 2015. The veteran hurler tells Saxon that the rehab is expected to be “about six months,” and that surgery offered him the “best chance to pitch next year.”
The Pirates announced today that Francisco Liriano has been placed on the disabled list with a left oblique strain. Liriano joins ace Gerrit Cole on the market and gives Pittsburgh’s rotation a very different look than it had at the end of the 2013 season when that duo was teaming up with A.J. Burnett to shut down opposing lineups. ESPN’s Jayson Stark spoke with officials from several other teams who expect the Bucs to try to trade for a starter with Cole and Liriano now on the shelf (Twitter link).
Here’s a bit more on the Pirates and the rest of the NL Central…
- Pirates president Frank Coonelly told Joe Starkey of 93.7 The Fan and the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the team’s level of interest in re-signing Russell Martin is “very high” (Twitter link). Of course, that doesn’t mean the Pirates will be able to afford Martin, who is coming off a strong season and hitting .269/.409/.394 in 30 games this year.
- Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports tweets that Brewers lefty Brad Mills can opt out of his minor league deal on Sunday and is having a strong season at Triple-A. Mills has pitched to a 1.57 ERA with 9.1 K/9 and 2.1 BB/9 in 69 innings of work. Rosenthal wonders if the veteran 29-year-old could be of interest to teams looking for a starter.
- Cubs GM Jed Hoyer spoke with David Kaplan of CSN Chicago (Twitter link) and said it’s “likely and definitely possible” that the team will spend on veteran players in free agency this offseason. Said Hoyer: “We need to add veterans to the kids that are coming.”
- Earlier today, the Reds placed Carlos Marmol on the minor league restricted list after he left the team without permission. MLB Daily Dish’s Chris Cotillo spoke with Marmol’s agent, Paul Kinzer, about the move (All Twitter links). Said Kinzer: “He decided to take a break and just focus on getting back on track. He’s still healthy and should still be in his prime. His velocity was still in the mid-90’s. I don’t believe the Reds want to release him. He wants to get his confidence back and take a break mentally.”
With the Red Sox losing the division lead for the first time in two months, here's the latest from a hotly contested American League East …
- The deal that brought Alfonso Soriano back to the Yankees was consummated over the objections of GM Brian Cashman, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post. "I would say we are in a desperate time," said Cashman. "Ownership wants to go for it. I didn't want to give up a young arm." The club dealt young righty Corey Black (and took on salary) to add the 37-year-old Soriano. MLBTR's Steve Adams rounded up the reactions to the deal yesterday.
- Cashman's latest overruling continues a trend, Sherman further reports in the same piece. Most recently, Cashman reportedly preferred signing catcher Russell Martin and outfielder Nate Schierholtz this last offseason. Instead, ownership pushed a two-year, $13MM deal with Ichiro Suzuki. While the Yanks could have Martin and Schierholtz playing right now on one-year deals, says Sherman, the team instead has an aging Ichiro-Soriano combination set to earn $11.5MM next season.
- The Red Sox must add talent, writes Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald, or risk dropping back in a tight AL East race. Silverman opines that the club should call up top prospect Xander Bogaerts to provide much-needed pop from the left side of the infield. Meanwhile, with Clay Buchholz still not on a clear timetable and with Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez choosing the Phillies over the Sox, Silverman says that Boston should also make a deal for a starter.
- Should Boston make a move to bolster its rotation, one player who could be dealt is third baseman Will Middlebrooks. WEEI.com's Rob Bradford reports that Middlebrooks, who is trying to work his way back to the form he showed in his 2012 rookie campaign, has heard the rumors for the first time in his recollection. "I'm just trying to keep my nose out of it," Middlebrooks said. The 24-year-old indicated that he remains content in the Red Sox organization in spite of his struggles this year: "I have a good opportunity here. I don't need to get traded to have a good opportunity."
- Looking at Boston's recent history, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal suggests that the team could look to pick up a somewhat under-the-radar player that can contribute not just this season, but in the future. MacPherson notes that the Sox added catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (2010), shortstop Mike Aviles (2011), and reliever Craig Breslow (2012) when the price proved right and the deal met the club's multi-year needs. This season, with Saltalamacchia nearing free agency and backup David Ross injured, the team could look to deal for a backstop with future control even as it gives playing time to prospect Ryan Lavarnway. MacPherson suggests the Padres' Nick Hundley as a possibility, while noting that San Diego could be hesitant to move him.
Tonight's Brewers vs. Marlins matchup surely was of interest to teams that might pursue starting pitching in the trade market, Danny Knobler of CBS Sports tweeted at the beginning of the game. Yovani Gallardo started for the Brewers and pitched eight shutout innings, striking out four and walking one. The Marlins' Ricky Nolasco, another trade candidate, didn't fare so well, allowing four runs while striking out five and walking two over 5 1/3 innings. Here are more notes from around the league.
- Last November, the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks expressed interest in Alex Rodriguez, Ken Belson and David Waldstein of the New York Times report. The Yankees never discussed the matter with the Japanese team, because they knew Rodriguez required hip surgery that would limit him in 2013, and because they knew Rodriguez would not consent to playing overseas.
- Ike Davis' poor performance (and subsequent demotion) may make him a non-tender candidate in the coming offseason, Adam Rubin of ESPN New York argues. Davis will make $3.125MM this season, and will be eliglble for arbitration next season. He hit .161/.242/.258 in 207 plate appearances this year before the Mets shipped him to Triple-A Las Vegas. Last month, MLBTR's Tim Dierkes discussed many potential non-tender candidates, including Davis, Clayton Richard, and Chris Perez.
- The Pirates have had a number of surprisingly good pitching performances this year, and what connects them is catcher Russell Martin, Travis Sawchik of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review writes. Martin's pitch-framing is highly-regarded, and he also wins praise for his game-calling. His impact on the Pirates' pitching staff makes the two-year, $17MM contract to which the Bucs signed him this offseason look like a very good one, Sawchik argues.
- The Astros are rebuilding the right way, says ESPN's Jim Bowden in a new video. Bowden argues that GM Jeff Luhnow, manager Bo Porter and new president Reid Ryan are the right leaders for the Astros. Bowden also says the Astros' top draft picks help set them up to the future. The Astros selected Carlos Correa first overall in 2012, then grabbed Mark Appel with this year's top pick. They'll also have a very high pick next year. Not trying to spend their way out of last place is the right strategy for the Astros, Bowden says, because of the top picks they get as a result.
- The Orioles are not interested in Jon Garland, MASNsports.com's Roch Kubatko tweets. The Rockies released Garland this afternoon after he posted a 5.82 ERA with 4.2 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 for them.
The latest from ESPN's Buster Olney (Insider subscription required)…
- Cuban slugger Yasiel Puig is forcing the Dodgers' hand with his monster performance in Spring Training, Olney writes. While the team clearly has no place for him to play given the presence of Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, the buzz he's generating and intrigue from scouts could force the team to consider him for a quick promotion to complement Ethier and/or Crawford against left-handed pitching.
- Olney wonders why the Yankees appear willing to take on $13MM of Vernon Wells' salary in the trade that has reportedly been agreed to, but wouldn't spend that money on Russell Martin earlier in the offseason: "Instead of having a good defender at a premium defensive position, they have now invested that money in a corner outfielder who has been in decline the last couple of seasons and wasn't even used as a regular player for much of 2012."
- One possible explanation, as Olney notes, is the salary relief the Yankees will get from Mark Teixeira's injury. The World Baseball Classic is paying the team $7-8MM to cover the injury sustained by Teixeira as he prepared for the event.
- Similarly, the WBC is picking up the tab for the Dodgers on the injury sustained by Hanley Ramirez in the Championship game.