Russell Martin May Be the Yankees’ Best Option at Catcher Despite Poor Season

How many players can have as poor of a season as Russell Martin and still have a chance of being paid? Especially considering he turned a three year extension worth about $20 million from the New York Yankees last offseason?

Martin hit just .211, had a .311 OBP and a 92 OPS+. All below average numbers. His numbers were even worse until he had a red hot month of September/October.

Still, he managed to set a career high in home runs with 21 and delivered several clutch hits over the course of the season, including one in Game 1 of the ALDS inBaltimore.

Well, there’s a very good chance that Martin could be back in Pinstripes in 2013 and for the foreseeable future, and still have a solid contract to work on for it.

Martin is currently the third best catcher available on the free agent market behind Mike Napoli and A.J. Pierzynski. All are in their 30s and looking for long term contracts

Napoli is coming off two excellent seasons with the Rangers, hitting 30 HRs and having a 1.046 OPS in 2011 and becoming a first time All-Star in 2012. Pierzynski just had his best season ever with the White Sox this past season, setting career highs in HRs and slugging.

So, because of typical Yankee standards, will they be all over either Napoli or AJ? The answer is probably no.

The Yankees have a plan to cut payroll to $189 million by the 2014 season. Currently, they have $70.5 million invested toward that season between Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, and CC Sabathia.

They also have to worry about locking up Robinson Cano for the long term. So between those four players, and perhaps Derek Jeter, could add up to almost $110 million for that season.

The desire to cut payroll and the amount of money already committed for the future could limit the amount of talent the Yankees can add based on their contract desires.

Russell Martin made just $7.5 million in 2012, and could get pretty much the same amount of money over a multi-year deal. Both Pierzynski and Napoli could look to get even more than that.

The fact is, Martin is the best option at catcher for the Yankees financially and long term.

Despite his poor numbers, some metrics may suggest that he may bounce back next season. Out of all MLB players with a minimum of 450 plate appearances, he had the lowest BABIP at .222. His line drive rate (19.4%) is around his career norms, so it doesn’t seem it is a result of weak contact and more of as an outcome of bad luck.

He is a much better option long term than AJ, as Pierzynski is 36 and will ask for more years and money after having a career year. His year was an extreme outlier, as he didn’t have a season with an OPS+ over 100 (average) since 2003 when he was inMinnesota. So, Martin’s and Pierzynski’s career numbers are actually very similar, but Martin is the superior defender.

Napoli is the worst defender out of the three and will be forced to play a lot of games at first to keep him in the lineup. The Yankees can’t do that with Mark Teixeira on the team still providing excellent defense and offense. He will also probably ask for the largest deal of the three, as he’s only 31 and the best option.

Even if Martin doesn’t rebound with the bat if he is brought back, he is still a good stopgap between whoever emerges as the catcher of the future in the minor league system. Currently there are no immediate in house replacements but there will be in a few years.

Jesus Montero is gone and he couldn’t be the long term man. Austin Romine has had back problems and will not be ready to be the starter just yet. Gary Sanchez and JR Murphy are more than a few years away from the Majors.

Still, given what Martin provides defense (he certainly was an upgrade over Jorge Posada last year), and the hope that his offensive numbers could trend upward, it would seem he is the best option to continue tot be the New York Yankees’ starting catcher for 2013 and afterward.

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