Published on December 27th, 2012 | by James Conley0
BucsBlog: Pirates Sign FA Catcher Russell Martin
The Pirates signed former Dodgers and Yankees catcher Russell Martin to a two-year, $17 million contract in late November, seeking to shore up a position that was manned by declining veteran Rod Barajas and back-up Michael McKenry in 2012.
The Pirates outbid the Yankees in their pursuit of Martin, 29, whose offensive numbers have declined in each of the last five seasons. Martin hit .211/.311/.403 with 21 home runs in 2012. The .211 average is a precipitous decline from his career-high of .293 in 2007 with the Dodgers, but moving out of the AL East and into the NL Central has proven helpful for other FA acquisitions, such as A.J. Burnett.
Russell and McKenry will now be the featured rotation in Pittsburgh, with AAA prospect and former first-round pick Tony Sanchez still struggling to establish dominance in Indianapolis.
For the Pirates, the Russell signing wasn’t without its side effects. Closer Joel Hanrahan was moved to Boston this week in a six-player deal that, not insignificantly, shed salary. However, the Pirates received a solid reliever in Mark Melancon and managed to re-sign Jason Grilli to a two-year extension earlier in December. Grilli and Melancon seem set to occupy the closer and set-up roles, respectively, in 2013.
It was important for the Pirates to address one of their weakest positions from a season ago, and they seem to have done so with Martin. Even at a light-hitting .211, Martin is sure to be a more difficult out than Barajas, and his defense is perhaps the strongest asset and the primary reason the Pirates felt he was worth $17 million.
Among the myriad of statistical credits, one that stood out for Huntington was Martin’s ability to throw out baserunners. Since his 2006 debut, he has thwarted 216 steal attempts which, according to Elias, is the most of any Major League catcher in that span.
The Pirates were abysmal in that department in 2012, nailing only 19 of 173 runners. Hence, more emphasis will be placed on pitchers minding runners, but Martin can be a big part of the cure.
The Pirates’ staff will have to do a great deal to help Martin continue making putouts, but there’s almost no reason to believe he can’t help the team improve on a dismal 10.9 caught-stealing percentage.
Martin is Neil Huntington’s richest free agent acquisition to date, although his price tag can’t be separated from the loss of Hanrahan. However, it’s difficult to imagine that Martin won’t be an improvement over Barajas.
Small markets aren’t easy to navigate. Huntington will have to hope Martin and the rest of his reclamation projects in Burnett, Gaby Sanchez and Francisco Liriano can benefit from AL-to-NL revivals and get the Pirates over the hump in 2013.