Russell Martin recently signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates for a two-year deal worth $17 million—a bit much for a just-above-decent aging catcher. Unfortunately for the Pirates, if they want to sign a free agent, they will most likely have to overpay.
This was not the worst deal in the world, as Martin is better than any catcher the Pirates have had in the last few years, but is he really worth an average of $8.5 million a year? I don’t think so. The Pirates have been in contention up until the trading deadline the last two years, so maybe they think Martin will make the difference.
Martin, over his seven-year career, is a .260 hitter, which is just about the major league average. For a catcher, .260 is not terrible. .260 could be just what the Pirates need in their lineup.
From 2008-2011, Ryan Doumit was the Pirates’ primary catcher. He was on and off, hitting .318 in 2008 and .303 in 2011, but also hitting .250 and .251 in 2009 and 2010. Last year’s catcher Rod Barajas did not exactly cut it. He hit .206 with only 11 home runs and 31 RBI.
Last year, Pirates catchers spent most of their time in the 6-7 hole of the lineup. Martin will fit nicely here and will have occasional opportunities to drive in Andrew McCutchen. Martin’s primary job will to drive in the leftovers from the top/middle of the lineup and to get in scoring position for the bottom of the lineup.
I can’t see Martin as a 4-5 hitter due to his relatively low career average (the Pirates will not be able to trust him with driving in McCutchen). Martin’s experience with pitchers does not really come into play here as the Pirates have an experienced staff. A.J. Burnett, James MacDonald and Wandy Rodriguez head the staff and should have a pretty good year. Martin could still be on the team when prized prospect Gerrit Cole makes his debut, which could be useful.
Martin is 29, so he should be in his prime right now. This is a bit concerning, seeing that he hit .237 and .211 his past two years. The Pirates must have seen something that led to them giving Martin such a large contract. This deal could also be a problem when thinking about the pressure it could put on Martin.
Looking back on underperforming players with large contracts, I think of Aaron Rowand and Barry Zitoof the Giants. Both players were rewarded for previous success and failed miserably. Rowand and Zito were both signed to contracts for more than two years, but the money could put some extra weight on the player. Tim Lincecum also might have suffered from this after signing a two-year, $40.5 million contract with the San Francisco Giants.
He then preceded to have the worst season of his career. Rowand ended up being bought out by the Giants and Zito is on the last year of his contract (2013). Zito has managed to salvage some of the contract with a strong 2012 campaign-and by providing a big help in the playoffs and World Series, but the point is: large contracts put a lot of pressure on players!
I do not think Martin will be the reason the Pirates will make the playoffs this year. If they do, it will be because of another major signing or trade. If the Pirates are serious about contending, they should try to trade for Justin Upton while his value is low.
An outfield containing Upton and McCutchen would be a very dangerous prospect in the NL Central. This would also give Martin a little more value, giving him more RBI opportunities.
Without another addition to the team, the signing of Martin might not have been the best idea.