New York Yankees Top Priority Should Be Bringing Back Russell Martin

By Nik Swartz
Russell Martin New York Yankees


To those asking about Josh Hamilton or other long-term free-agent deals – the New York Yankees aren’t doing that this year. Brian Cashman is a stay-the-course GM. He will not be surprising anyone in the spring with a big trade, because he won’t react specifically to what the Toronto Blue Jays  have done. It is not his style and he really thinks his way is right and the team he has assembled is good enough to compete.

With a half dozen teams interested in Russell Martin, it’s no slam dunk that Martin, who the Yankees like very much despite his sub-par 2012, will be returning to the Bronx next year. If he doesn’t return and Cashman stays his course, who is going to be behind the plate in the Bronx in 2013?

Since this is a particularly weak year for free-agent catchers, New York’s best alternative seems to be Mike Napoli, who hit 24 HRs for the Texas Rangers this season. A.J. Pierzynski, the other “name” catcher on the market, who is soon to be 36, may fit in perfect in the old locker room, but he is presumably not a candidate for a multi-year deal.

So what do the Yankees do?

Here’s a quick comparison:

Napoli just turned 31, is a career .259 hitter and has hit 146 home runs and driven in 380 runs in seven big-league seasons. His career on-base percentage is a respectable .356. He made $9.4 million last season.

Martin will turn 30 in February. He is a career .260 hitter with 93 HRs and 418 RBI’s in seven seasons; his career OBP is a just-as-respectable .352. He made $7.5 million last year.

Obviously, they are remarkably similar offensively, with the edge in power going to Napoli, although as a right-handed hitter, he might not hit as many home runs in Yankee Stadium.

The one significant difference between the two is defense. Martin is a better catcher, having thrown out a higher percentage of would-be base-stealers, 30 percent to Napoli’s 24, and has allowed 37 passed balls in 851 games as a catcher to Napoli’s 29 in just 485 games. Perhaps more importantly, Martin is a full-time catcher, catching at least 117 games every season, with a high of 149.

Napoli is slightly more than a part-time catcher — he has never caught more than 96 games in a season, splitting the rest of his time between DH and first base. You have to wonder if his bat, and body, would hold up to the kind of daily grind Martin has shown himself to be up for.

The question of the day for the Yankees – which one do they sign? The question of the winter is will they sign anyone?

If not, that would essentially have Chris Stewart, a 12th round pick by the Chicago White Sox in 2001, being the everyday guy for the first time. The Yankees are in this situation because they traded their top minor league catcher last off-season. If Cashman keeps this up, the Yankees may not see the playoffs with him as an employee.

If the Yankees are going to bring Martin back, they will have to outmaneuver five other clubs, according to a source with knowledge of Martin’s plans. Besides Cashman’s proclamations that he would like Martin back, the Rangers, Seattle Mariners, Pittsburgh Pirates and Boston Red Sox have shown interest, the source said.

The Red Sox have signed David Ross, but he is considered more of a backup type, so Martin still could be in play for Boston. There is reportedly a fifth unidentified club that is interested as well. Back when winning was more important than money spent, there would be no way the Yankees would let a player fall to the Red Sox. This isn’t the old way it, this is the new way of business in the Bronx, so expect Stewart to be the guy behind the plate to start the season.

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