So…what now?

The Yankees needed a starting catcher. The Yankees had a starting catcher who’s been worth 5.2 fWAR over the past two seasons (and that probably underestimates the value of his pitch framing abilities), and he’s just signed a two year, $17 million contract. Unfortunately, he signed that contract with the Pirates, not the Yankees, as the latter apparently never got particularly close to a deal with him.

As far as the Yankees’ level of interest goes, details are a little sketchy. Jon Heyman reported that the Yankees were working in the $12-14 million range with Russell Martin before he signed his new contract, but most of the New York beat reporters have said that the Yankees never made Martin an offer at all, and in fact haven’t made an offer to any position player yet. David Waldstein passed along the most specific detail: claiming that the Yankees told Martin they didn’t have the cash to match the Pirates’ offer.

So that’s really the rub: Martin is going to Pittsburgh because of the Yankees 2014 budget plans (or the Yankees had no interest in him at all and just used the payroll issue as a cover, but that wouldn’t comport with everything else we’ve heard about the organization’s opinion of Martin). The front office’s desire to get below the luxury tax threshold is stronger than their desire to retain a solid starting catcher at a fair market rate, even if the likely alternative is starting a replacement level (or worse) catcher this season. And yes, I understand that some of you think that’s a bullish assessment of Martin, but with all due respect you’re simply wrong about that. Martin may have struggled to hit his weight last year, but weak bats are the norm for catchers these days, and Martin’s wRC+ of 95 was just below the average mark for the position (96), which actually isn’t that surprising when you remember that he hit 21 home runs and worked a walk rate of 10.9%. In other words, he was basically an average catcher just on the value of his offense, and I doubt that his defensive skills are a matter of strong contention. The biggest concern with Martin has always been his health, but he’s remained healthy for almost all of the past two seasons, a development that easily makes him worth this rate of pay given his age (29), and the gobs of television money coming into the industry that are only going to push salaries up even further in the future.

So now the conversation turns to who starts behind the plate for the Yankees in 2013, and the picture is not a pretty one. A.J. Pierzynski and Mike Napoli are likely out of the question, and there isn’t another option of the free agent market that you should feel good about right now. Maybe the Yankees get lucky and someone gets non-tendered tonight, just like Martin did two years ago, but that’s unlikely. Perhaps they imagine trading for a young, cost controlled catcher who can start, but players like that are rarely, if ever, available and, if they are, they likely won’t come cheap. That means that, for now, we have to assume that the presumptive starter is already in the organization, and anyone of those four potential starters (which should really be three, as Austin Romine isn’t at the point where he should be considered a big league player come April, let alone a starter) is likely to leave even his harshest critic viewing Martin in a new light.

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

21 thoughts on “So…what now?

  1. James

    Any potential at all for a Joe Mauer trade?

    • uyf1950

      I can't see that as being even a remote possibility. Mauer is scheduled to make $23MM per year for the next 6 years.

    • rich7041

      Out of the question. Mauer is signed through the 2019 sason & is slated to make $23M next year.

      • jay_robertson

        And doesn't catch that much anymore.

  2. Bill

    This is kind of like what the Topping-Webb tandem did in the early 1960s when the sold the club to CBS, although the circumstances are a little different. Back then, the ownership didn't invest in the farm system, now the ownership isn't investing in needed talent. Despite all the denials, I don't think we should be surprised if this club changes hands in the next year or two.

    Concentrating on the team on the field, might there be a trade in the works with the Diamondbacks (Miguel Montero)? Or maybe even the Mariners (John Jaso or Miguel Olivo)? As I've said here in the past, Romine is an injury risk, Pierzynski sounds like a problem and Napoli is not a real catcher. And Sanchez and Murphy are nowhere near ready. So unless Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli are how they want to proceed, there's got to be something brewing. Thoughts?

    • Remember when the Yanks farm system was widely viewed as “catching rich”? Maybe 12 months ago…Now, the 'Frisco Kid is THE GUY.

  3. Herb Sevush

    The argument that most catchers can't hit, therefore lets overpay for Martin because while he can't hit either, he occasionally can jerk one out, doesn't make that much sense to me. There are plenty of good defensive catchers out there who also can't hit and cost much less. I'm fine with Chris Stewart and Romine with Cervelli as a replacement for Romine if he can't cut it. Some of the offense will come from pinch hitting for them late in games. Let Girardi earn his keep by figuring it out.

    • jay_robertson

      "Some of the offense will come from pinch hitting for them late in games."

      Obviously, you're looking for some serious improvements to our bench, also. 😀

      • Herb Sevush

        With an outfield of Granderson, Garnder and Ichiro I expect we will pick up a decent right handed outfield bat – Andru Jones need not apply. Our left handed bench last year was excellent – I'm happy to ensure Chavez or Ibanez an 8th inning plate appearance.

    • BrienJackson

      Well, "can't hit" is a very relative thing in this framing. Martin "can't hit" in the sense that his production is right about average for a starting catcher, but a touch below average for all hitters. "Can't hit" for, say, Chris Stewart is being a substantially worse hitter than Martin.

  4. Paul Marino

    I'm in complete agreement with Herb if all you got was average production why pay top dollar for it. Besides just because Martin didn't get hurt over the last two years shouldnt suddenly become the expectation for the next two. I for one wont miss seeing him fail to bring runners in.

    • Mike

      Your argument fails though unless the Yankees know something about Martin that the rest of the world doesn't (which is possible but unlikely). Because you're basically saying that Martin and his "average" stats are not worth $1.5 million extra each season for the next 2 (assuming reports are correct that Pirates signed him for 2 years $17 million and the Yanks were in the 2 years $12-14 million range). So they were willing to pay 14 but not 17? That is chump change in the big scheme. Really, is any combination of Yankees catchers "in the system" going to give them 2-3 fWAR? (Martin produced 3.0 and 2.2 in his 2 years) They should be lucky to get 1 fWAR from the current options.

      I think many people just don't get that this would not be an "overpay" and it is not paying "top dollar." You have to pay for average production. You don't have to pay for replacement level production (read: bottom of the barrel). Martin's #s alone (not even taking into account his pitch framing) equate to $13.6 million in 2011 and $10 million in 2012 (according to Fangraphs). If he continues to decline at the same rate, he would bring production right in line with his salary. Especially considering the alternatives. I am assuming Cashman will not be able to pull a rabbit out of his sleeve for this one either.

      Jeff Sullivan gives a good analysis on Fangraphs (and yes, pitch framing is discussed):

      The Yankees are saying they expect him to continue to decline, but I think that is just a cover for this $189 million BS. Now this mandate is affecting the on-field product. If anything, even if Martin continues to decline, I would predict a regression back UP for him: "between 2011-2012, 304 players batted at least 500 times. Martin’s .238 BABIP ranks fourth-lowest. That could be a sign of decline, or that could be a sign of a guy who’s better than his raw results."

  5. uyf1950

    A wise man once said let's not rush to judgement on who will be playing where. It's not even December yet, it's about 3 months until players report for spring training and over 4 months until teams break camp and the regular season begins. An awful lot can happen between now and then.

  6. jay hoenemeyer

    No need to panic . Yet . But I really , really , suspect that the Steinbrenner kids are in it only , like really only , for the money . This is quite different than the way George ran the team : you gotta spend money to make money . We're not in Luria country yet but it's getting close .

    • BrienJackson

      Hey, at least Loria can say that attendance at their new park was underwhelming and the guys they spent all that money on formed the core of a 93 loss team, so there's actually some baseball logic to it.

    • Chad

      are people actually invoking the Marlins because the Yankees failed to overpay (in my opinion) a mediocre offensive catcher with declining skills?

    • rich7041

      I don't think anyone can compare the Yanks to the Marlins (or any other tightwad team you choose.) I don't like the austerity plan any more than other fans, but a payroll of $189M is still extraordinarily high. I'm not even sure if any other team has ever been that high.

      • BrienJackson

        Maybe if they had committed to all of that $189 million the offseason prior this would be a good point. As it stands, that they're giving A-Rod $27.5 million in AAV really isn't much of a consolation.

  7. mcmastro

    You're telling me that Chris Stewart, who Sabathia loved last year and got along with the rest of the staff when he caught, can't hit .200 and play catcher well?

    • michael

      Hit .200, walk 10%, and slug 20 HR? Haha ok.

  8. uyf1950

    Here's a prediction. Based on the what the Yankees saw when they called him up last September and him being voted one of the best at his position at the just finished AFL and IF Romine can stay healthy through Spring Training I say he gets a shot at being the Yankees starting catcher in 2013. But we'll see.

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