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Cast off by Yankees, Russell Martin is early postseason hero for Pirates

Oct 2, 2013, 12:50 AM EDT

Russell Martin Getty Images

Russell Martin may have hit a mere .226 for the Pirates this season, but there’s little doubt he was a difference maker. On Tuesday, he showed the Yankees what they were missing my hitting two homers and catching another gem from Francisco Liriano as the Pirates advanced to the ALDS.

After a successful first year in pinstripes in 2011, Martin and the Yankees discussed a three-year deal without ever getting anything done. He avoided arbitration for the 2012 season by signing a one-year, $7.5 million deal, but he wanted more than that annually to do the long-term pact. The Yankees were thinking something closer to $20 million for three years.

Martin’s average ended up tumbling from .237 to .211 in his second year in New York, and while there was still some talk of a multiyear contract when he hit free agency, indications are that the Yankees never submitted an offer. The Pirates made him two offers: $17 million for two years or $21 million for three. He was also reportedly offered $13 million for two years by the Rangers. He chose the two-year contract from the Pirates.

Martin went on to hit .226/.327/.377 with 15 homers and 55 RBI in his first year for the Pirates. It was the best season the Pirates got from a catcher since Jason Kendall’s heyday. Despite the modest average, Baseball-reference says he was worth 4.3 WAR. It’s actually the ninth-highest total for a sub-.230 hitter in their database.

5.2 – Gene Tenace (1978 Padres)
5.0 – Ozzie Smith (1980 Padres)
5.0 – Mark Belanger (1975 Orioles)
4.9 – Gene Tenace (1974 Athletics)
4.9 – George McBride (1910 Senators)
4.7 – Darryl Strawberry (1989 Mets)
4.6 – Ron Hansen (1963 White Sox)
4.5 – Mark Belanger (1974 Orioles)
4.3 – Russell Martin (2013 Pirates)
4.3 – Roy Cullenbine (1947 Tigers)

That’s an interesting mix of defensive whizzes (Smith, Belanger) and homers-and-walks guys (Tenace, Cullenbine). Martin is a little of both there, getting equal credit for his offense and defense in rWAR. It rated him as the NL’s 23rd best position player this year.

The Yankees, meanwhile, suffered through the season with Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and Austin Romine doing the catching. In all, their catchers hit .213/.289/.298 with eight homers.

If not for the Yankees’ desire to get under the luxury tax in 2014, there’s a good chance they and Martin would have worked something out. The Pirates, though, are thrilled they didn’t. Expect to see Martin behind the plate for every one of their games until their postseason run is complete.

  1. yaboyjake - Oct 2, 2013 at 1:09 AM

    Martin is on the Pirates, not Padres

  2. djpostl - Oct 2, 2013 at 1:12 AM

    Lol. Love the whole “he showed the Yankees what they are missing” angle.

    He is the same guy as last year. Low average, some homeruns that come in streaky batches and a good back stop.

    He is also the same dude who couldn’t get it done in the post-season as a Yankee (55 PAs, 8 H and 1 HR)

    A lot of guys wilted under the lights in New York and went on to be produce in post-season elsewhere.

    There isn’t much more to his performance in this game than that (especially since he wouldn’t have single-handedly pushed them over the top and into post-season this year anyways).

    • apkyletexas - Oct 2, 2013 at 2:07 AM

      A Yankee fan telling us all how bad of a player Russell Martin is on the night he hits two playoff homers and catches an absolute gem of a game.

      How rich.

  3. fraudguy - Oct 2, 2013 at 1:16 AM

    “On Tuesday, he showed the Yankees what they were missing my hitting two homers and catching another gem from Francisco Liriano as the Pirates advanced to the ALDS.”

    Realignment in the middle of the playoffs?

    • jarathen - Oct 2, 2013 at 8:22 AM

      Bud will do anything to keep the Brewers in the NL.

  4. drewzducks - Oct 2, 2013 at 1:27 AM

    Can’t blame him for wanting to play for a contender as opposed to playing for a team that will be circling the drain for the next 3-5 years.

  5. edelmanfanclub - Oct 2, 2013 at 1:29 AM

    Martin 2012 vs 2013 vs Yankees Catchers

    2012: .211/.311/.403 1.5 WAR
    2013: .226/.327/.377 4.3 WAR

    Stewart: .211/.293/.272 0.2 WAR
    Romine: .207/.255/.296 -0.7 WAR

    Yankees fans are lying if they are telling me they don’t miss him. BA and OBP arent much higher but his power numbers and defensive skills crush Stewart and Romine. Even tho AR is young, maybe be different if FC didnt get hurt and wasnt a juicehead.

  6. coryfor3 - Oct 2, 2013 at 1:39 AM

    Cast off? Someone was going to overpay for Martin and for once the Yankees weren’t the team. Good for them I guess. He had a good game at a big time. Still- as a whole the Pirates overpaid.

    • nderdog - Oct 2, 2013 at 11:36 AM

      How do those sour grapes taste? There isn’t a Pirates fan in the world who thinks we didn’t get our money’s worth. Led MLB in caught stealing by a decent amount. One heck of a game caller. Maybe it’s because he replaced Barajas, but we are pretty happy with him and would give him every penny of that and more. Maybe if you only look at his hitting numbers he’s overpaid, but his presence behind the plate is well worth it.

    • louhudson23 - Oct 2, 2013 at 3:01 PM

      Yanks could have used him and Pirates did not overpay…He is a top flight catcher in all aspects,hits for pop,drives in runs,runs well….and loves to play the game and is a fine teammate….you are simply incorrect….

  7. yankeepunk3000 - Oct 2, 2013 at 1:46 AM

    though I was first glad they didn’t sign him to a long contract and let him walk it still hurt the hell out of us. people want to look at his offense that is fine but playing in a hitters gold mine like Yankee stadium, well damn it he would of hit.better plus he is top 5 in defense for catchers in both leagues. This guy can control and command any pitching staff and is a BRICK HOUSE back there. His defense is what’s amazing and any offense is just icing on top. Besides he still hits very well for power and can drive the ball into the gaps. He isn’t a bad base runner so its all a plus. This guy to me is what made the pirates pitching staff step up and be that good. The bullpen trusts him and it’s no suprise why they are that much more solid. So yes Martin should be getting that much praise and if he was with the yankees 4.3 wins could of ment a playoff chance and believe me that Yankee pitching staff would of been a lot fucken better. just my 2 sence

  8. 950003cups - Oct 2, 2013 at 5:05 AM

    A) pirates is not spelled P-A-D-R-E-S.
    B) they’re not in the ALDS. They’re in the NLDS
    C) Pittsburgh is 1 for 2 in ex-yankees. No mentions of AJ Burnett?
    D) I think the Yankees made a bigger blunder letting Raul Ibanez walk.

    So now that it’s straightened out. Martin was great. He had some great games as a Yankee. Can’t blame him for dying in the ALCS. The whole franchise fell apart overnight.

  9. theskinsman - Oct 2, 2013 at 5:37 AM

    Get off Matt. Do you have any idea how hard it is to get the Yankees in a story when only the good teams are playing?

  10. Carl Hancock - Oct 2, 2013 at 7:57 AM

    So because Russell Martin hit 2 home runs last night the Yankees are now stupid for not signing him to a longterm deal? LOL. Gotta love armchair GM’s.

    • apkyletexas - Oct 2, 2013 at 8:40 AM

      No, the Yankees aren’t stupid, they’re evil.

      This is what’s called Karma.

    • louhudson23 - Oct 2, 2013 at 3:07 PM

      This was clearly a bad move in letting him go and I and many others said just that the day they let him go….He was one of the few solid players on last years squad, a much,much better catcher than anyone in the Yanks organisation and he gives a shit each and every day…last night was just icing on the cake for one of the best catchers in the game….but hey,other than that,you are spot on…

  11. vintage1496 - Oct 2, 2013 at 8:15 AM

    Anyone else think “cast off” is a little harsh? Martin hit .211 in 2012 and played awful – AWFUL – in the postseason. The platoon at catcher for NY this year was equally awful, but I think passing on a 30-year-old catcher whose value declined each of the past 6 season and just went 5 for 34 in the playoffs is a reasonable roster move.

    • jarathen - Oct 2, 2013 at 8:27 AM

      The Yankees overvalued their replacements and undervalued Martin’s defensive abilities. He had a bad year, so that’s a tougher call than what we now know about Martin’s 2013 season, but the Yankees didn’t look at the whole picture or were convinced they had a reasonable alternative in-house.

      They didn’t.

      • Kevin S. - Oct 2, 2013 at 8:43 AM

        We’ll never know if Cervelli’s April was a fluke or the result of improvements he made in AAA last year, but he was the Yankees’ planned replacement, and he was lost for the year to a fluke injury on April 26. It’s a little foolish to act like the Yanks thought Chris Stewart could replace Russell Martin, because that was never the plan.

  12. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Oct 2, 2013 at 10:09 AM

    I wouldn’t have minded the Yankees letting Martin go if it was really about some philosophical standard that they had to meet. But when they gave Ichiro the contract Martin was looking for, I just grabbed my head and wanted to scream. Martin is at least a rare and valuable commodity on the baseball field. Ichiro at this point is a no-bat, no-glove, no-speed reserve outfielder who probably provides negative net value once you factor in the damage done by his name getting him far too many prime opportunities. Those opportunities are precious and should not be thrown away on an aging declining OF.

  13. elmo - Oct 2, 2013 at 11:06 AM

    He was cast off by the Dodgers as well, after a hip injury. The Dodgers then muddled through for awhile with the likes of Rod Barajas and Dioner Navarro as backstops before AJ Ellis latched on.

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