Pittsburgh Pirates: Why Russell Martin Won’t Be Back In 2015


Make no mistake, the Pittsburgh Pirates want to re-sign Russell Martin.  Wanting and doing are two completely different things, however.

Last Monday, the Pittsburgh Pirates extended a qualifying offer to Russell Martin which would’ve returned him to the Pirates for the 2015 season to the tune of $15.3 million. Martin officially rejected the offer Sunday.

That offer by the Pirates was merely strategic in nature, only to guarantee that they won’t walk away from any deal empty-handed. Pittsburgh will receive a compensatory draft pick if Martin signs elsewhere, according to the MLB collective bargaining agreement.

The Cubs are expected to be interested, as are the Dodgers, Blue Jays – and the Pirates. So-called “experts” are expecting he will command a five-year deal worth upwards of $60 million given the current market.  He’s easily the best free agent catcher of the 2015 class.

So, what are some of the reasons he won’t be the Bucco backstop in 2015 (and beyond)?

He’s Told the Pirates ‘No’ Already

According to numerous reports. the Pirates offered a contract extension to Martin late in the 2014 season, which Martin rejected. Sadly, the terms of the offer were not disclosed, so it seems we may never know if it was a serious offer or if Martin’s agent was smart enough to look at the supply of free-agent catchers and realize the demand he would command coming off such a solid season.

You may freely call me cynical, but I think this was simply a forward-looking PR move by the Pirates, one they can look back on after Martin signs with another team and say “well, at least the fans are dumb enough to think that we tried.”

Martin has no ties to Pittsburgh, other than his job. If you think that he will remain in Pittsburgh because he loves the traffic and the wonderful damp spring months, I am surprised you harbor the intelligence to be able to read this article.

Uncharted Financial Waters

This deal is projected to be the largest contract in the history of the Pittsburgh Pirates franchise, a title currently held by Jason Kendall and his six-year, $60 million deal signed in 2000.  Thinking back, this may not surprise you much, but consider this:

At the time, that deal made Jason freaking Kendall the second-highest paid catcher in the history of Major League Baseball.

For the Pirates to win the Martin bidding war, they are going to have to make him an offer equivalent to 81 percent what Kevin McClatchy paid for the Pirates when he acquired the team. Sure, that group of baseball wizards are long gone from day-to-day ops, but it’s a pretty cool stat.

He’s Old (For a Catcher)

Russell Martin is 31 years old.  He wants a five-year deal, that presumably may take him into retirement at the age of 36? That’s becoming awfully long in the tooth for this era’s prototypical productive catcher. Sure, there are outliers that played into their late-30s like Jorge Posada, Ivan Rodriguez and A.J. Pierzynski, but they weren’t the same then as they were in their respective primes.

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Martin has not played in more than 133 games since the 2009 season. 2014 marked his career low in games-played, with the exception of the 2010 season when he missed the last two months of the season due to a torn labrum in his hip. He spent a couple of weeks on the DL in 2014 with a hamstring issue, but those types of issues are expected as players age.

If the Pirates are truly on a fixed budget of sort, it’s difficult to expect them to commit the money Martin will demand when he’s expected to miss 30 to 40 games a season, especially with bigger holes to fill (think first base and third base).

Monkey on Pirates’ Back

When is the last time the Pirates landed a big free agent (to a multi-year deal) when other teams were competing against them? Exactly.

In the modern era, no one really wanted to sign up for five years of losing, especially for what the Pirates have historically been willing to pay them.

Perhaps times have changed and the Pirates are serious about signing Martin to a multi-year deal. That’s fine, but they are going to need to do some pretty solid selling if they want Martin to think that they are now committed to winning a championship, especially if a team like the Dodgers, who have demonstrable experience of winning, is offering an apples-to-apples deal.

The Pirates have a storied franchise, just not much over the last 20 years. The front office of the modern era has always operated the franchise like a business first, everything else second (all-you-can-eat seats, which I love, bobble head and fireworks nights, etc…), and a baseball team focused on winning as a distant third.

Hopefully, the operating ways of the past will be left in the past and the Pirates will start to shift their priorities around so that baseball isn’t so low on the priority list. Perhaps that statement can best be made over the next couple of weeks with a big free-agent signing in Martin.

If not, I guess there’s always Tony Sanchez to look forward to.