As I’m sure you know by now, there were some mid week reports that the Yanks and Russell Martin were discussing a contract extension. Those reports were shot down almost immediately, and it turns out they were just a rehashing of some pre-arb hearing conversations that went nowhere. Both sides have since decided to shelve any further discussions until after the season, when Martin is due to become a free agent. The talks apparently broke down over cost. The Yanks were willing to go 3 years and around 20M, while Martin was seeking more than that. Both sides have solid reasons for walking away. From Martin’s perspective, he knows another healthy and productive season should garner him a more lucrative deal in terms of years and dollars. From the Yankee side, a player with Martin’s health history has to come at some discount unless and until he proves his issues with his hip and knee are behind him. He had solid year overall (.237/.324/.408) posting a 3.1 WAR according to Fangraphs, but has yet to recapture the All Star form that he had early in his career. Though injuries may not be the main reason he hasn’t been the same. It could be argued that after an eye opening rookie season and a breakout sophomore campaign in 06-07, his numbers declined and have leveled off to the player he is today. Looking at his BP player card there doesn’t appear to be anything serious injury-wise before August of 2010, and his numbers had already declined the year before. There may be a bit more there with the bat, as his career .359 OBP would suggest, but we haven’t seen the elite bat (to go along with his always stellar defense) for the past 4 years, most of which were relatively healthy.
Even with that being the case, 3 WAR Catchers are a highly sought after commodity. Only 6 players at the position posted a higher WAR last year, 2 of whom (Miguel Montero and Yadier Molina) are scheduled to become free agents along with Martin next year. “Scheduled” is a key word there. Players like Montero and Molina are considered to be cornerstones of their respective franchises, and its hard to imagine their clubs not locking them up long term before hitting the open market. Neither player is repped by Scott Boras, so there’s no guarantee they’ll hit the open market. Martin could find himself in a strong position as the only real Catcher (sorry Mike Napoli) available and the 3 year deal the Yanks were kicking around during arbitration could easily become 4 or 5 for Martin, who just turned 29 only 11 days ago. At that point, the timing of the deal and who they have in house gets a bit complicated.
Let’s address the in house candidates. No one familiar with the Yankees views Francisco Cervelli as an everyday catcher. In the classic mold of the platoon player he hits lefties well but struggles facing righties. Plus he makes goofy faces, and as any old time scout will tell you guys like that are destined for the bench (sarcasm alert). The next Catcher in line would be Austin Romine. On the plus side he earns well deserved raves for his defense, pitchers love throwing to him, and the bat has made strides in recent years. But he’s yet to log a full season in AAA, had concussion issues last year, and its difficult to imagine him being ready to assume control of a veteran staff as soon as 2013. That may change, Cervelli has had a number of his own bouts with concussions, and if he lands on the DL again this year Romine would get an extended look. Should he impress with the bat as well as the glove, the Yanks may opt to get a veteran backup with some pop and hand Romine the starting gig, which would mirror the Girardi-Posada platoon of the late 90s. But the ideal scenario would be to extend Martin for 2-3 years, and work in Romine slowly before handing him the reigns. Failing to extend Martin makes it unlikely that will happen, so now a team loaded with Catching prospects may have a bit of uncertainty at the position over the next few years.