The Pittsburgh Pirates are in a bitter pennant race right now and a big reason why has been the presence of catcher Russell Martin. Martin has provided the Pirates with amazing defense behind the plate and has had his best offensive season this year as well. But Martin will be an impending free agent next season, and the Pirates can’t afford to let him walk.
Martin signed in Pittsburgh two years ago for a two-year deal worth $17 million. At the time, Martin took the deal because it was the best one on the market, and he wanted to build value so he could get a big payday after those two years. Martin has certainly done that. No one has thrown out more base runners in the last two seasons than Martin. He has blocked many possible wild pitches. He has been a top pitch framer in the league. He has been hitting for a great average and on-base percentage, and he’s also been a great leader in the Pirates’ clubhouse.
This is a guy everyone is going to want on their team, and because of that the Pirates can’t let Martin hit the open market. He loves the city of Pittsburgh, but he also will want the biggest payday possible because this will likely be his final big contract. So if the Pirates let Martin hit free agency, big market teams that need a catcher, such as the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, could open their pocketbooks and give Martin a similar deal to what the New York Yankees gave Brian McCann, five years and $85 million.
The Pirates can’t afford to pay Martin that much money, but they could make him an offer he can’t refuse before other teams have a chance to go after him. A deal the Pirates could afford that could make Martin happy would be about four years and $60 million. That’s a lot of money, but Martin is worth it. Outside of Martin, the Pirates have no replacement. Former top prospect Tony Sanchez has been unimpressive in the majors, and other top prospects like Elias Diaz and Reese McGuire are too young to insert in the majors. And the free agent market does not have any better options.
The Pirates need Martin on their team. There is no player that they have or could acquire that will replace him, on the field and in the locker room. If the Pirates want to prove that they are serious about paying their players and they are serious about competing, they will do anything they can to keep Martin. And the only way to do that would be to pony up the money, extend him now and refuse to let him hit the open market.