Russell Martin Unlikely To Return If Pittsburgh Pirates Make Qualifying Offer


Rob Biertempfel of Trib Total Media reports that the Pittsburgh Pirates are likely to make a qualifying offer to catcher Russell Martin ahead of Monday’s 5 p.m. deadline.

Martin appeared in 111 games for the Pirates in 2014, posting a triple-slash of .290/.402/.430 (AVG/OBP/SLG) with 11 home runs. Aside from the stats, Martin was probably more highly-regarded for his management of the pitching staff, including Edinson Volquez‘ turnaround season.

For those unfamiliar with Major League Baseball’s qualifying offer process, teams have five days following the conclusion of the World Series to make qualifying offers to their free agents. A qualifying offer amounts essentially to a one-year contract with their current team, and a salary equivalent to the average annual salary of the top-125 players in Major League Baseball – $15.3 million for 2015.

If a team should make a qualifying offer to a player, the player would have seven days to either accept or decline the offer. If the player accepts, they would be granted a one-year contract. If the player declines, he would be free to sign with other clubs uninhibited, with one major catch: the team he signs with would forfeit their first-round draft pick and the team making the qualifying offer would receive a compensatory first-round draft pick by return.

In the case of Martin, the Pirates would essentially be offering Martin a $6.5 million raise over his 2014 salary for a simple one-year extension.

So, why even make the offer? Well, there are actually a few very solid reasons the Pirates would want to head down this road.

First, and probably most importantly, the Pirates would guarantee themselves at least some return on their investment.  The only reason Martin would likely even consider accepting the qualifying offer is if he absolutely adored playing and living in Pittsburgh but didn’t want to make a long-term commitment, which you would agree is extremely unlikely (or unfathomable, depending on your love, or lack thereof, of Pittsburgh).

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In the likely scenario he declines the qualifying offer and signs with another team, the Pirates would receive draft pick compensation for essentially no money.

Secondly, the move would save face in front of the fans, portraying Martin as the “bad guy” should he decline. To the casual fan, it would seem that Martin had declined a hefty payday in spite of a different deal just to get out of Pittsburgh.

Of course, this isn’t the case. Martin, at nearly 32 years of age, is going to be seeking a contract that will take him near or into retirement – likely a four-year deal, with a team option for a fifth. He’s not leaving because he hates playing here or that he’s not making enough money. He’s going to leave because he has limited time remaining in his playing career and he needs to solidify his future beyond a single year deal.

Many experts speculate that he could command a minimum four-year deal in the $50-$60 million range based on the current state of the catcher’s market. When’s the last time the Pirates dropped that kind of money on anyone? The team’s MVP in Andrew McCutchen didn’t even come close to seeing $60 million in his 6-year $51.5 million deal in 2012, so why should Martin expect to receive what the market says he’s worth from the Pirates?

Here’s a hint: he shouldn’t.

This will play out quite simply. Martin will be playing professional baseball in 2015 and beyond, but it just won’t be for the Pirates.

Think back to 2014 and the A.J. Burnett fiasco. The Pirates could have made the same qualifying offer to Burnett, who was projected to make close to what the qualifying offer was valued – a no-brainer, right? The only risk to making such an offer to Burnett was that there was a reasonable chance that Burnett would have accepted the offer and the Pirates would have to pay him.

With Martin, that’s not the case, even with the promise of the high one-year salary. He’ll be chasing a multi-year deal with the career year he just had and, if history holds true, the Pirates are already thinking about who they will be selecting with their second first-round draft pick in the upcoming draft.