Before this deal was finalized, I had read that the Pirates and Martin’s most recent team, the Yankees, were the last two clubs in on Russell Martin. I was still busy shaking my head at the Pirates for even getting involved in the bidding when the news came across that the long-suffering Pittsburgh fan base would have to stomach yet another poor decision. The Pirates signed Martin to a two-year pact worth a reported $17 million in a move that signifies the franchise still operates under a state of continuous confusion.
Martin, now 30, has rebuilt his career as a catcher who offers a little bit of power. He has hit 18 and 21 home runs in the past two seasons, good for .170 and .192 ISO marks. The thing is, Martin has still struggled to slug .400, and his overall production at the plate leaves quite a bit to be desired. He still has it in him to post above average walk rates, but he pretty much has to excel at taking the free pass if he intends to live south of .240 when it comes to batting average.
I’m sure Martin can continue being good enough to start for someone behind the plate, but that’s beside the point. Martin can’t get on base at a high rate, and the occasional home run can’t make up for the much more than occasional out. He’s a decent option for a backstop, but he isn’t right for the Pirates and he probably won’t do more than provide even money on this deal. The Pirates are a team that needs to be concerned more with the future than the immediate present; we said it all summer when the organization was getting busy at the trade deadline and we’ll say it again. Cute little contention bids aside, this team isn’t in the same neighborhood as the Cardinals and Reds at this point.
There is still a lot to like about Pittsburgh’s minor league talent, and it’s young talent that will be responsible for pushing the Pirates back into the playoffs at some point. Throwing precious dollars around at veterans who might make the difference between winning 77 and 78 games is a futile exercise, and a 30-year-old catcher with a mixed track record is hardly the spot to pick when you’re plotting to throw caution to the wind. In the large scheme of things this deal isn’t likely to kill the Pirates or anything, but it’s a signifier of a much larger problem.