Pittsburgh Pirates Get Best Reasonable Outcome With Russell Martin


Sep 10, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin (55) reacts after a close pitch in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The Pirates defeated the Phillies 6-3. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

With Monday’s news that free-agent catcher Russell Martin has signed a five-year, $82-million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays, the Pittsburgh Pirates can officially move on.

One could argue the Bucs already did so with last week’s acquisition of Francisco Cervelli from the Yankees, but now the die has truly been cast. Barring a dramatic change of course, some combination of Cervelli, Chris Stewart and Tony Sanchez will don black and gold catcher’s gear in 2015.

I can’t imagine many Pirates fans are feeling shocked by Martin’s decision to play in his home country. Several reports of his contract demands had emerged in recent days, none of which indicated he was likely to stay in Pittsburgh.

At the same time, some of those reports also stated that the Pirates were at least in contention to sign Martin, along with the Cubs, Dodgers and Blue Jays. General manager Neal Huntington gave it the best shot he could muster, which was appropriate when considering just how valuable Martin was over the past two seasons.

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The Pirates paid the affable Martin a total of $17 million over two years, and they recouped about 10 wins above replacement (WAR), according to Baseball-Reference.com. That’s a remarkable value when wins usually go for several million dollars apiece on the free-agent market.

Martin was a difference-maker both behind and at the plate, to say nothing of his leadership acumen. He can’t be truly replaced, but the Pirates shouldn’t be investing $82 million in a 31-year-old catcher under any circumstances. The Blue Jays are getting a heck of a player, although that deal will likely revert to albatross status in its latter years.

Not only will the Pirates have greater financial flexibility without Martin on the payroll, they also avoid having to face him 19 times a year. That would’ve been their fate if he landed with the Cubs; his returning to the Dodgers wouldn’t have been much better, either, with future National League wild-card races to worry about.

Instead, Martin is in Toronto, where he will play the Pirates a handful of times over the next five seasons. Unless there’s a World Series matchup down the line, he won’t hinder Pittsburgh’s efforts directly, other than by his absence.

We tip our cap to Martin and all he meant to the Pirates. For all he contributed on the field, let’s not forget he did the Bucs one last favor by the way out the door.