As always, there is more than one side to everything, so let’s go Joni Mitchell on Russell Martin.
Martin agreed to terms with the Pirates on a two-year, $17 million contract Thursday night. The Pirates not only signed a solid catcher who will be 30 on opening day for two years but trafficked in the “upper echelon,” such as it is, of free-agent catchers. In recent years, the Pirates have not dabbled in this area, instead grabbing the Erik Bedards and Nate McLouths of the world.
Martin hit a career-high 21 home runs in 2012, and a .222 batting average on balls in play suggests his .211 average will increase. He has played in at least 125 games in each of the past two seasons.
The Pirates front office, which speaks often about concepts like return on investment and the value they assign to players, paid market price – probably more than market price – for a sought-after commodity. Reports said the Yankees, Rangers and Mariners were interested in Martin’s services as well. In addition to the money spent, they convinced Martin to play in Pittsburgh, a difficult task if recent years are any indication. David Waldstein of the New York Times writes that playing with former teammate A.J. Burnett and the Pirates’ young talent intrigued him.
Based on the $8.5 million average annual value of Martin’s contract, the Pirates now have $50.2 million committed to seven players in 2013. Thanks to payments from the Yankees and Astros for Burnett and Wandy Rodriguez, the Pirates are responsible for $36.7 million of that.
If the Pirates tender all eight players eligible for arbitration by tonight’s deadline, conservative estimates add $20 million to the payroll, increasing it to the $70 million range before accounting for the pre-arbitration players. The Pirates will be responsible for $56 million or so of that. Assume the 10 players who round out the roster all make $500,000, and you’re looking at a 2013 opening-day payroll in the $75 million range, of which the Pirates are responsible for $61 million.
Martin hit .211/.311/.403 in 2012, the fifth consecutive season in which his batting average has dropped. His career-high 21 home runs came with Yankee Stadium, a hitter’s park, as his home stadium. His strikeout has increased in each of the past four seasons. While his slugging percentage has increased, his on-base percentage has dropped in each of the past four seasons. He will be a 30-year-old playing a physically demanding position. For comparison, Rod Barajas got $4 million to hit .206 with a .283 on-base percentage.
The move also highlights the Pirates’ feelings on Tony Sanchez, their top draft pick in 2009. Sanchez hit .251/.338/.401 between Altoona and Indianapolis this season with eight home runs. Sanchez has work ahead of him to pass Michael McKenry for backup catcher duties, and the slow progression of a first-round draft pick reflects poorly on an area where the Pirates spent a good deal of money.
That payroll increase could prevent the Pirates from signing, trading for or tendering contracts to starting pitchers, which the team also needs for 2013.
So make of it what you will.
Busy day today, so here are the final two posts from the arbitration series. Hope you have some free time this morning at work.
Age opening day 2013: 27
Arbitration year: First (Super 2)
Acquired: Via draft, 11th overall pick in 2004
Service time: 2 years 166 days
2012 salary: $500,000
Stats: .280/.342/.426, .768 OPS in 530 plate appearances, 129 games, 104/47 K/BB ratio
Walker was well on his way to another nice season, this one with more power and a higher batting average, before back problems derailed his season in late August. Walker had a herniated disc in his lower back that eventually ended his season early. Those problems should be resolved by spring training – rest and strengthening the core muscles usually cure herniated discs – but back problems, especially spinal issues, linger. This will hang over the negotiations.
Among the 22 second baseman who qualified for the batting title, Walker ranked eighth with 3.3 Wins Above Replacement, according to Fangraphs. Walker registered minus-four defensive runs saved, according to the Bill James Handbook, meaning he allowed four more runs on defense than that of an average second baseman.
Walker provides solid offense for a middle infielder, though his right-handed swing still lags behind.
Comp: Martin Prado, 2011. Prado hit .307/.350/.459 in 651 plate appearances, 140 games, in 2010 and received $3.1 million in 2011 in his first season of arbitration. This is on the high end; Walker won’t get this much, but there are not many good second base comps to be had.
Analysis: Walker provides solid offense and solid if unspectacular defense at a premium position on the diamond, making him a valuable commodity, but his back injury could force the Pirates to try to depress his salary. He will likely earn somewhere between $2.5 and $2.75 million. As always, he is an extension candidate, but the Pirates won’t exceed their internally determined value of Walker and indications are Walker won’t give them a hometown discount. The fact that he won't be a free agent until after the 2016 season, when he’ll be 31, means the Pirates are in no rush to lock him up.
-- Video courtesy of MLB.com
Age opening day 2013: 29
Arbitration year: first
Acquired: Via trade along with Kyle Kaminska from the Marlins for Gorkys Hernandez and a 2013 compensation draft pick
Service time: 3 years 25 days
2012 salary: $483,000
Stats: .217/.279/.341, .620 OPS in 326 plate appearances, 105 games, seven home runs, 56/25 K/BB ratio
Sanchez spent 34 games of the 2012 season in the minors after hitting .197 through late May. He hit .241/.323/.397 after the Pirates acquired him at the trade deadline.
At his best, Sanchez can provide a complement to Garrett Jones at first base against left-handed pitchers. He hit .240/.333/.396 against lefties this season and has a career .869 OPS against lefties.
Sanchez had trouble replicating his 2010 and ’11 seasons in 2012, making him the prototypical player the Pirates like to target (think Casey McGehee). Sanchez’s .245 batting average on balls in play didn’t help his cause this season.
Comp: N/A. Sanchez falls into a vortex of service time, performance and games played that does not lend itself to easy comparison.
Analysis: Sanchez seems like a non-tender candidate, except for two things: The Pirates need someone to platoon at first base, or play first if Jones plays right, and he’s scheduled to appear in the Pirates caravan. He’s a tough call because of the lack of easy comps, but I would imagine he’ll get around $1 million to $1.5 million.
-- Video courtesy of MLB.com
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