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 That study was done a decade ago, however, and Huntington conceded that it could be outdated.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.