A year ago, Yankees GM Brian Cashman was comparing Russell Martin to Thurman Munson and broke their unwritten rule by offering him a $20 million, three year contract extension before he hit the free agent market.
Then he spent most of this season hitting less than .200 and finished with a .211/.311/.403 line that was good for a 92 OPS+ and suddenly even a $20 million offer was not guaranteed. However, if it were up to CC Sabathia and Derek Lowe the Yankees should still re-sign the catcher.
“I think it’s important,” Sabathia told Mark Hale of the NY Post. “He’s been a great addition to our team, on and off the field. That’s not in my department, though. But we’ll have to just wait and see what happens. But he’s been great for us.”
“I had him in L.A.,” Lowe added. “He’s actually probably gotten a little bit better as far as catching because of experience, and with [bench coach] Tony Penahere being a catching guy. There’s not many catchers that are going to hit you 20 home runs and drive in I don’t know how many he had, call a great game, throw guys out. From that standpoint, he’s a guy that’s only getting better. Again, I can say that because I’ve played with him back in L.A., and I’ve seen the progression in a positive way.”
That’s the thing about Martin. While he can’t hit much, his wOBA of .316 ranked 15th out of catchers with at least 400 plate appearances, he is a very solid defensive catcher. From pitch framing to blocking balls in the dirt, he is above average.
The question is, is his defense good enough to overlook his putrid offense? And is his power, his ISO of .192 was seventh among catchers with at least 400 plate appearances, enough to make up for his poor on base skills? Yadier Molina got $75 million over five years, is Martin worth $20-$30 million over three years? Is he even worth a mutli-year contract?
It would be nice if the Yankees could rely on minor leaguer Austin Romine to take over, but they can’t. For one thing, it’s impossible to see them trusting a rookie catcher to handle their pitching staff, but even worse is that a back injury has caused him to miss a significant amount of time in each of the past two years. This leaves the Yankees with the option of re-signing Martin or testing the free agent and trade markets.