The arbitration deadline looms for the New York Yankees and Russell Martin. And if this writer was a betting man, the odds seem high that the team and its catcher are already in negotiations for a long-term deal. Now that the Yankees have determined the fate of Jesus Montero, there is no reason not to try to tie up Martin for the next three years. This will allow the team to bring Austin Romine along at a slower pace (back up catcher) and if that doesn't work out, Gary Sanchez--one of the team's best prospects--should be ready in two years.
All the latest research this author has found makes Russell Martin even more valuable than his valuation on Fangraphs.com ($13.8 million in 2011). Mike Fast's work at Baseball Prospectus on the value of framing pitches (and thus getting extra strikes), along with Bojan Kopravica's work at The Hardball Times on blocking pitches has allowed Kopravica to piggyback on Fast's work and come up with an adjusted value for catchers. From his work Martin's new WAR total would be 4.6 WAR instead of Fangraphs' 3.1. Such a study lifts Martin's true value to the Yankees last year at $20.47 million.
Obviously, you don't want to max out a contract equal to a player's actual worth. But a three year deal in the ball park of $35 million makes perfect sense. The Yankees have offered him $7 million in arbitration and Martin is asking for $8.5 million. Back load the deal so that it only costs the Yankees $8 million or so this year and the Yankees can tie up the sixth most valuable catcher in baseball for three years.
Martin's somewhat draggy offense in 2011 did dim his value. His offense was only worth about 1.9 wins in 2011. When the Fan downloaded Kopravic's spreadsheet and sorted the catchers by defensive value, Russell Martin was the second best defensive catcher in baseball last season. And most of that value is tied up in how well he frame's pitches and gets his pitchers extra strikes. That is exactly the kind of skill the Yankees need with their latest acquisitions on the pitching side of things.
Obviously, the Yankees are crying poverty right now. Translated, you can read that as being tired of being penalized for being so high in salary. But the team made a big splash to go out and get pitching. Wouldn't you want to back that up to get the second most valuable defensive catcher and the top-rated "framer" of pitches in the game? That's a no-brain decision on this end. Romine is loved by the Yankee brass for his defense. But let him learn for awhile behind Russell Martin, one of the best in the game.