In case you missed it…our first “What to Do With” was for Alex Rodriguez

Russell Martin is probably pissed at his agent

In a rare move, Brian Cashman reportedly offered Russell Martin a 3-year, $20 million contract extension before the 2012 season. It was a rare move because the Yankees seldom offers players an extension before they hit free agency. It speaks to how high Cashman is or was on Russell Martin.

So what happened?

Russell Martin and his agent Matt Colleran rejected the deal.

Russell Martin then hit .211 for the season. In fact, he didn’t permanently crack the .200 barrier until September 5th.

And now he’s a free agent. Not the best gamble for Russ.

Turning down a 3-year deal and then hovering around the Mendoza-line all season probably doesn’t do much for your leverage, and baseball insiders expect Martin to receive one-year offers once again.

Recapping RussMart’s 2012 season

Looking at his full stat line, Martin .211/.311/.403 — a line that could have been much worse if not for his monster September: .258/.347/.539.

As we pointed out several times during the season, Martin suffered from an extremely low BABIP (Batting Average on Balls in Play): .222. That was the lowest BABIP in MLB for players with a minimum of 450 PAs.

On July 5th, we issued a Buy Low recommendation on Martin, when his BABIP was .190(!!). If Russell Martin was a stock, you would have made money, because from that point through the end of the season, he hit .241/.324/.455 (.252 BABIP).

Our recommendation was purely based on the fact that Martin was hitting as many line drives as he’s averaged his whole career (19.4%), so the big drop in BABIP was not adding up.

Be that as it may, he was still a black hole at the plate for most of the season and he likely cost himself some guaranteed money.

He still hit 21 HRs

For someone who struggled to hit .200, he sure hit a lot of home runs. Since Martin joined the Yankees, he has enjoyed the friendly confines of the Big Ritz-Carlton in the Bronx. In 2012, his Isolated Power at the Stadium was .238. In 2011, it was .175.

His 21 HRs ranked 3rd among all AL catchers.

His defensive reputation

Despite the lousy overall offensive season, Martin still has a great defensive reputation around baseball. And studies show that Martin is a great pitch framer and gets calls that he otherwise shouldn’t. As recently as October 9th, Fangraphs published a report showing that Yankee pitchers are one of the leading beneficiaries of called strikes that are outside the strike zone. This coincides with what we’ve heard about Martin over the past couple years.

So depending on how much you weigh the evolving science of weighing catcher defense, this could be a nice feather in the cap for RussMart.

What other options do the Yankees have?

Internally, now that The Jesus is gone, the Yankees do not have any immediate starting-quality options if Martin departs via free agency. There’s only one catching prospect who’s knocking on the door in the intermediate-term, and that’s Austin Romine. While he finished the year in AAA, he suffered from back problems that kept him out most of the season. There’s no way he’s ready to become the full-time big league catcher yet, just because of his back alone. Furthermore, you have to believe that any rookie catcher is going to be phased in, like the Girardi-Posada combo from back in the day. Catchers have a ton of responsibility. Best-case for Romine is that he’s the big league back-up in 2013.

Longer-term, there’s the highly-rated Gary Sanchez, but he was only promoted to High-A ball this year. JR Murphy reached Double-A, but he had a disappointing year offensively and is still a work in project.

The Yankees have no starting-quality catchers internally to replace Martin in 2013, and maybe not in 2014 either, depending on Romine’s progress.

The biggest free agent names this offseason for catchers are A.J. Pierzynski and Mike Napoli. Pierzynski is 36 and coming off a freakishly (out of context) good season (114 OPS+). By all accounts, he’s poor defensively and a total dick. Napoli is only 31, and he’s the best hitting catcher not named Joe Mauer of the past 7 years. He’s like our departed Jesus though, in that >he’s not really a full-time catcher.

Conclusion: The Yankees should re-sign Russell Martin

In our latest poll, 741 votes were registered in favor of keeping Martin — a higher total than Arod, Granderson (boy, do people not like CFs who hit 40 HRs), Ibanez, Chavez, and Soriano.

Well, for those who voted to bring back Martin, we agree. Here’s why:

1. The Yankees simply don’t have any options internally who can take over for Martin full-time next season. And the free-agent class is thinnny thin thin.

2. There are worse catchers out there than Russell Martin, especially when you factor in his defensive reputation.

3. If his BABIP can rebound to more career-normal levels, he’ll hit better than last year. Even what he did from July through the end of the year would be fine (.779 OPS).

4. He’s only 29. That’s practically a baby in Yankee-land.

The offer:

He had a poor year offensively, but he didn’t lose ALL of his leverage. Starting quality-catchers are not easy to find.

We’d go two years (one year less than what Cashman offered him prior to 2012) with a team option for a third.

Two years affords the Yankees time to sort out their internal catching situation (gives Romine a chance to succeed/fail/transition, Sanchez a couple years to advance through the system). The team option for a third provides the Yankees a fall-back plan in case no prospects work out.

And there you have it. Bring back Russ.


Reason enough to re-sign him.