Russell Martin agreed to a two-year deal with the Pittsburgh Pirates on Thursday. This, in a normal season, would be a blessing, as Martin wanted more than he is worth. Martin leaving is a strange situation, and there seems to be more to his joining the Pirates than meets the eye. Is it that bad in New York that players want to leave the New York Yankees to go play for the Pirates?
Last spring, the Yankees tried to lock Martin up when he and his agent, Matt Colleran, decided to break off the talks. After Martin’s horrendous 2012 season, it would seem like a blessing that he did not sign the three-year $21 million deal.
Martin and his agent thought he would have a huge 2012 season and then they could go back and get more from the Yankees, or another team, with few catchers available this winter. No one expected Martin to hit .211 and even more, that the Yankees would still want him; an even harder pill to swallow for the Yankees is that he didn’t want them.
The Yankees thought they could dangle a large amount of money at Martin in a one-year package and he would accept, because no one could offer more, the problem was Martin wanted more years more than he wanted more money.
He did get more years, but only one more, in his two-year $17 million deal with the Pirates. Martin’s departure is odd because the Yankees reportedly offered him a one-year deal for around $10 million, and before given a chance to counter the Pirates offer, Martin was gone.
Martin leaving is another Bronx fail; Martin coming back may not have made the Yankees that much better, but his departure makes them worse.
If anyone doubted Hal Steinbrenner was serious about getting payroll down by 2014, they shouldn’t be now. With the catching situation, he said he was willing to go with three backups before he would give Martin another year.
Martin seems to have had more on his mind than money, because yearly he is making less and one more year couldn’t be that important; or was it he didn’t like how he was treated by the Yankees?
Yankees manager Joe Girardi, a professed fan of Martin’s defensive abilities, spoke strongly about wanting Martin back.
Players before Martin couldn’t handle the big stage in New York, like his new teammate, MLB’s biggest head case AJ Burnett, who also left for Pittsburgh last year, after crumbling under the bright lights in the big city.
Martin though seemed to be able to handle it, even during his tough 2012 season he was always available to the press, never backing away from an interview.
So why did he leave?
Some speculate Martin left because Girardi kept him away from Yankees ace, CC Sabathia, for five months of the season, using Chris Stewart to catch Sabathia from April 17 to September 3, a span of 20 starts. Martin always said he didn’t mind, but in New York, the players are like robots and always say the right thing during the season, but it surely bothered him more than he let on.
Martin has his flaws, but he calls a good game and is a good defensive catcher; his arm strength is falling off, but he is the best starting catcher in free-agency this year and he had all the leverage and used it.
Why he left is a dead subject now, as the Yankees have bigger problems having only Martin’s backup Stewart; Francisco Cervelli, who was relegated to AAA out of spring training and then “promoted” to the backup’s backup in September; and Austin Romine, who hasn’t even played a full season of AAA. Romine may be the future, but he isn’t ready yet, also he has a big problem with passed balls.
No other free-agent catcher still available is better than Martin, but they are better than the three-headed monster the Yankees have now, so it’s time for New York to go after one.