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Russell Martin says the Yankees made a mistake in letting him go

Mar 18, 2014, 8:31 AM EDT

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Russell Martin tells the New York Post that the Yankees made a mistake in not retaining him after the 2012 season. But unlike the usual “they should’ve kept me” stuff, Martin is not being emotional about it or trashing his former team out of some sense of being jilted. He’s actually making a spot-on bit of baseball analysis:

“It becomes an expensive mistake, no question . . . They can’t turn back the clock. They went and got a good guy who, offensively, puts up better numbers than I have and so costs a lot of money. I love McCann. They got a good one . . . I think the smart move is not to repeat a mistake. I think they paid the price for not acquiring an everyday catcher — or keeping one — and they went and got a good one this year.”

I don’t think there’s anyway to analyze the McCann signing without acknowledging that letting Martin go was a mistake. But apart from vague references to baseball being “just a business,” it’s not that often you hear a ballplayer look at some move involving himself in such objective terms.

  1. Rich Stowe - Mar 18, 2014 at 8:34 AM

    it was a very big mistake on the Yankees part to let Martin walk, especially when it cost almost nothing to keep him…however, getting McCann hopefully will work out in the long run…

    really hope that one of the young stud catchers (Sanchez, Romine etc) actually work out and the Yankees can once again get some homegrown talent behind the plate to follow in the long tradition of Dickey, Berra, Howard, Munson and Posada

    • 18thstreet - Mar 18, 2014 at 10:11 AM

      Given that Ellston Howard played in the Negro Leagues, I’m not sure I’d count him among the “home-grown” Yankees. He was the equivalent — financially speaking, only — of a free agent.

      • Rich Stowe - Mar 18, 2014 at 11:11 AM

        well, they didn’t really have the minor leagues back then, so technically everyone was free agents until they got picked up by a MLB team…

        Joe DiMaggio wasn’t homegrown either technically because he came from the PCL…but you get what I mean….

    • mmeyer3387 - Mar 18, 2014 at 11:04 AM

      My guess is that McCann will put up good numbers during the first part of his contract. However, Mrartin may be right because if nothing else, the Yankees gave McCann to many years on his contract. The odds of McCann playing well at the end of his contract are very unlikely.

      • 18thstreet - Mar 18, 2014 at 11:24 AM

        I think the Yankees know this. They have to. But they do it over and over again.

        Compared to a lot of other long-term Yankee contracts, though, the McCann one isn’t going to look that bad. Five years, by Yankees standards, is a short version of the type of long-term contracts that they usually offer. Teixeira’s deal is 8 years. Ellsbury and Sabathia are 7 years. A-Rod’s deal is 10 years.

        Heck, they signed AJ Burnett to a 5-year deal. This is brief, by NYY standards. And, really, it works for them. The don’t have a farm system, so it’s not like Teixeira or A-Rod is or was blocking someone else’s path. (When they lost Cano, they didn’t have a replacement-level guy at second base, so they had to sign a replacement-level free agent, instead.)

        With catchers, you need to have two anyway, so even when McCann declines, he’ll still have value as a backup catcher. (I’ve heard the Yankees have prospects at catcher. I’ll believe it when I see it.) I think the McCann deal makes a ton of sense for the Yankees.

    • Reflex - Mar 18, 2014 at 1:36 PM

      The price for McCann was more than the price difference between the Yankees offer to Cano and what he got from the M’s. Cano + Martin would certainly out produce McCann + whatever replacement level player they will have at second this year. And if you are going to overcommit in years to a player, do you want it to be a catcher or a second baseman?

      Mistakes were made, an the Yanks infield is significantly worse than it could have been as a result. McCann will be good, he is good, but he does not make up for the downgrade.

  2. vallewho - Mar 18, 2014 at 8:40 AM

    I’m not getting my hopes up..

    • hbk72777 - Mar 19, 2014 at 2:32 AM

      No one cares

  3. cur'68 - Mar 18, 2014 at 8:55 AM

    The moral of the story? Once you have a decent Canadian on board its best to keep him. Value for money and the replacement cost is considerable. What’s more, even if you could afford to spend the money for and wind up with an upgrade in a good hitting catcher you might get a downgrade in the “Random Acts of On-Field Policing and Other Hypocrisy” department. It remains to be seen how THAT will play out. McAnn might be over his need to be The Man In Charge Of Unwritten Rulez. Or he might not be. Can’t wait to see his reaction to a patented Brett Lawrie “douche-around-the-infield-after-getting-rung-up” opera. That’ll be worth keeping an eye out for.

    Russel Martin can not only handle a catching staff he can do also do it without being known as a cliche. I don’t know why it is so, but the guy never seems to get any credit for making the best of AJ Burnett. Burnett was awful with Posada and excellent with Martin, a trend that continued in Pittsburgh. For both Burnett and Martin, I think The Lords of the Empire should have given them one more season together: their results as a battery speak for themselves.

    • bigharold - Mar 18, 2014 at 10:49 AM

      There are several things wrong with your analysis. First, while Martin handled pitchers well Brunett’s best year with the Yaness was 2009 with Posada. Second, giving Martin “one more year” wasn’t really an option because he wanted a multi year deal. Lastly, While Martin racked up some big hits with the Yankees he was prone to stretches of utter sucking at the plate, a black hole of offensive productivity.

      I liked Martin and very much appreciated his defense, field generalship and attitude but he wasn’t worth the multi year he was looking for from the Yankees. That value of replacement cost you refer to is as important to the Yankees, it’s not their business model.

      From the Yankee point of view the moral is; if your a catcher looking at 30 years old you need to be able to hit better than .224, which is what Martin’s average, if you want a multi year deal.

      • cur'68 - Mar 18, 2014 at 10:57 AM

        You should check out Burnett’s splits with Martin vs Posada. Its staggering how different AJ was with Martin.

      • mmeyer3387 - Mar 18, 2014 at 11:18 AM

        I agree that Martin’s age is a factor that goes against rational common sense. On the other hand, this will also apply to McCann at the last years of his contract as well. The Yankees may regret giving McCann to many years, much like Posada’s contract.

      • bigharold - Mar 18, 2014 at 11:35 AM

        If Burnett’s splits were staggeringly better with Martin why didn’t it translate into staggeringly more wins?

      • cur'68 - Mar 18, 2014 at 12:17 PM

        Because, BigH, “wins” are outside of Burnett’s & Martin’s control. As they are for ALL batteries. However, the numbers WITHIN the control of a pitcher/catcher tandem are show a good to excellent pitching result. He was an above average pitcher when caught by anyone NOT named “Jorge Posada”.

      • cur'68 - Mar 18, 2014 at 12:25 PM

        Posada did well with Burnett for one season. Then, for some reason, he fell in love with Burnett’s mid to low 90’s fastball and tried to use it to make up for his, Posada’s, poor arm to give himself time to throw out baserunners. Its not that Posada couldn’t handle Burnett well. He could. But for his last 2 season’s catching him, he changed what he was doing. How did you miss this watching all those Yankee games? At one point, Burnett was switched to Molina to get AWAY from Posada with excellent results. Posada had his moments with AJ but then he set out try and save his career as a defensive catcher and it cost Burnett.

      • anxovies - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:32 PM

        Actually, I thought Chris Stewart was a better defensive catcher when he relieved Martin. If anybody remembers, signing Martin was a gamble for the Yankees, he was injured with the Dodgers in 2010, and has a bad back that could come back to haunt the Pirates. Burnett had a 5.15 ERA in 2012, with Martin catching him, and was lucky to win 11 games. Martin’s power came in handy in 2012, but he hit under .200 for most of the year and barely climbed over the Mendoza line toward the end of the season. The Yankees got tired of watching him kill rallies by striking out or hitting ground balls to infielders. McCann just turned 30 last month and should be able to catch effectively for the next 2 or 3 years. Teixiera’s contract terminates in 2016 and move to 1B could extend McCann’s usefulness for the last couple of years of his contract.

      • bigharold - Mar 18, 2014 at 3:50 PM

        “Posada did well with Burnett for one season. Then, for some reason,….’

        Then for some reason Burnett couldn’t get it done. Perhaps he did lose confidence in Posada but that was on Burnett, who wasn’t a rookie that was going to blindly throw whatever the catcher called. After the first year the presure clearly got to Burnett. And, yes I watched a lot of Burnett and frequently saw him cursing along, .. get in the least bit of trouble then meltdown. I like AJ Burnett a lot and thought he tried as hard as he could, .. maybe too hard. He just didn’t do well in NY because he didn’t deal well with the pressure.

    • mikhelb - Mar 18, 2014 at 1:37 PM

      Burnett splits in his time with the Yankees (2009-2011):

      With Posada:
      24 games, 136 1/3 inn, 5.61 ERA, 22 HR, 23 SB, 10 CS, 0.851 OPS, 0.327 BAbip

      With Martin (never did Posada and Martin catch Burnett in the same season):
      30 games, 176 2/3 inn, 5.15 ERA, 30 HR, 22 SB, 7 CS, 0.813 OPS, 0.298 BAbip

      I don’t see how Burnett with Martin was a lot better than with Posada, and remember that Posada could hit A LOT more than Martin.

      Some argue that Burnett got burned by Posada’s insistence on asking for more fastballs but the data shows that is just no true when checking the consistency of the percentage of pitches, what he did in reality was to get rid of his awful curveball after 2009 and instead began to throw “Mussina’s knucklecurve”.

      Was Burnett better with Martin in 2013 than in 2011? Absolutely but bear in mind they both were in the NL where Burnett has at least 1 free inning per game facing the pitcher so his numbers would be better… but never as good as when Molina catched AJ because Molina is better at defense, throwing, framing and actually blocking the plate, something that Martin is not really good at (and I mean blocking as in pitches that hit the ground and the C can block them to avoid WP and PB).

      Burnett was also “good” when Cervelli catched him. But we are here talking about splits and failing to take into account how good his rivals were, it is not the same thing to face the AL East than to face the awful part of the NL Central.

      • anxovies - Mar 18, 2014 at 2:43 PM

        Burnett was a disaster for the Yankees, no matter who was catching him. His pattern of getting 2 outs and then falling apart was infuriating to the fans and to the team. The fact that he went 11-11 in 2012 is a testament to good run support. During his time with the Yankees he went through a really nasty divorce with (reputedly) a really nasty, vindictive wife, which undoubtedly affected his pitching. Maybe he should have used some of that money from his big contract to have her kidnapped and smuggled to Saudi Arabia.

  4. apkyletexas - Mar 18, 2014 at 8:57 AM

    I’m a big Martin fan, but the fact is that he batted .211 his last season with the Yankees, and just .226 last year for my Pirates. He last batted above .250 in 2008. I love him for his defense and the way he sets up pitchers, but the Yankees must have known they could do better if they spent enough money.

    • Rich Stowe - Mar 18, 2014 at 9:02 AM

      true, however, last year how did the Yankees catchers do?

      • cackalackyank - Mar 18, 2014 at 11:06 AM

        True, if we just look at 2013, obviously Yankee catchers sucked. Then again, so did the rest of the team for the most part so they really didn’t stand out. Let’s play the devils advocate for the moment. The NYY resigned Martin for 13 and 14. In 2013 Martin hits his .226. Because there are 3 other “offensive black holes” he makes no difference, so for 2013 he is actually expensive. For 2014 his being signed keeps the Yankees from signing McCann, someone that will be a leader at, and behind the plate, and be a great mentor to Sanchez or Murphy preparing them to be his ultimate successor. All in all I think looking towards to the future, Martin would have been the expensive one.

    • tchillen - Mar 18, 2014 at 9:33 AM

      Martin was still worth +2.0 WAR his last year with the Yankees due to his on base skills and defense. He was much better this year, which was easy to see coming due to his BABIP issues in 2012. Had the Yankees kept him they would almost certainly have money for Drew. Martin+Drew>McCann in my opinion.

      I’m a diehard Yankee fan, by the way.

      • chunkala - Mar 18, 2014 at 10:01 AM

        Don’t forget that he batted .226 in NL last year. That equates to about .176 or lower in AL. Yanks had no productionfrom their catchers last year but keeping Martin wouldn’t have made much difference. Plus, he’s not getting 2 WAR at his age in AL either.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 18, 2014 at 10:18 AM

        Plus, he’s not getting 2 WAR at his age in AL either.

        He put up 2.7/2.0 (fWAR) and 2.5/1.8 (rWAR) in his time with the Yanks. Not sure why you think he couldn’t replicate that. r/fWAR also don’t take into account pitch framing, yet, which Martin always grades out extremely high.

        Regardless, we will never know the true story behind the 3/$21M extension that was pulled.

      • tchillen - Mar 18, 2014 at 12:06 PM

        His wRC+ (which is both park and league adjusted) was 109. Hard to argue he benefitted greatly from the switch.

  5. sdelmonte - Mar 18, 2014 at 9:01 AM

    The mistake seems to me that the Yankees failed to develop a replacement for Martin even though there was a time when I heard about three or four catchers in the minors being future stars for them.

    It’s kind of surprising how little success the Yankees have had with bringing players up through the system. No, it’s not the only way to do things. But it’s hard to believe the team that boasted “the Core Four” and Bernie Williams in the 90s will have just one farm-grown every day starter this season.

    • Francisco (FC) - Mar 18, 2014 at 10:07 AM

      You mean the guy who’s retiring this year?

      • sdelmonte - Mar 18, 2014 at 10:11 AM

        My bad. TWO homegrown players. My apologies to Mr. Jeter. But at this point, it almost feels like he’s from a different time.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 18, 2014 at 10:14 AM

      The mistake seems to me that the Yankees failed to develop a replacement for Martin even though there was a time when I heard about three or four catchers in the minors being future stars for them.

      There was never a time this was true in the last 10+ years. Only fans or NY sports writers would have said this, as any prospect group only rated Montero highly, and none of them thought he could stick at catcher.

      It’s kind of surprising how little success the Yankees have had with bringing players up through the system. No, it’s not the only way to do things. But it’s hard to believe the team that boasted “the Core Four” and Bernie Williams in the 90s will have just one farm-grown every day starter this season.

      Asking a team to have continually produce 2-3 borderline/guaranteed HoFers is a bit unrealistic don’t you think? And while they have two full time starters from the farm this year (Jeter/Gardner), I’ve mentioned it for a year now that their farm system is a year+ away from producing talent.

    • 18thstreet - Mar 18, 2014 at 11:36 AM

      The Core Four was a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon. There are plenty of smart franchises out there, but how many of them, in the expansion era, have EVER developed (and called up) four All-Star/Hall of Fame players in that short a window? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’d love an answer.

      Something very magical happened to the Yankees, getting Jeter, Posada, Rivera, Pettitte (and, for that matter, adding to Bernie Williams) all to the big club at once. Not only amazing talents, but at up-the-middle positions! It was amazing, and — if we’re being honest — it was a fluke. And if that was “the Yankee way,” then you’d think they’d have tried to do it again. Nope. They build their team via free agents.

  6. dillongeeescapeplan - Mar 18, 2014 at 9:06 AM

    Yankees catchers batted .213/.289/.298 with a tOPS+ of 73. Martin batted .226/.327/.377 with an OPS+ of 100 (about average/slightly above average coming from catcher). They may have been able to replace Martin’s pitch framing skills (Stewart’s pretty good at that), but that’s about it.

  7. csbanter - Mar 18, 2014 at 9:25 AM

    So I guess with Martin the Yankees would have made the playoffs last year. Winning in Pittsburgh is not the same as it is in the Bronx, you gotta feel for a guy that went to the playoffs as a teammate of the NL MVP and a ‘bum’ like Pedro Alvarez. Those darn Pirates.

  8. Jason @ IIATMS - Mar 18, 2014 at 9:39 AM

    “For Every Action There Is An Opposite and Equal Reaction”
    – Science

    “For Every Action There Is An Opposite and Completely Overblown Reaction that requires almost $500M to rectify”
    – Yankees

  9. tysonpunchinguterus - Mar 18, 2014 at 9:46 AM

    If the Yankees kept Martin, they would have had to give him a 2-year deal. Had they done that, they wouldn’t have had a spot for McCann now. They took a gamble that either the young guys would step up or they’d be able to get a replacement this winter. The young guys didn’t pan out so much, but they got a guy who is better than martin this winter. Yes, they lost a little bit at catcher last year (although Stewart was better at catching base-stealers in 2013 than Martin was in 2012 – Stewart was at 31% which was 5% above league average and Martin was at 24% or 1% below league average). However, the move also gave them a chance to see if they had anything in Romine. It doesn’t look like they do at the moment. Cervellie is probably the better choice to be McCann’s backup due to having the better bat but I guess Romine still has a chance to improve defensively. He’s not a starter, though.

    It’s funny how the team gets crapped on for big-money signings AND gets crapped on for trying to see if their younger players are any good. Romine got more playing time last year than Stewart did as Martin’s backup but it just didn’t work out. There were other factors that played a much bigger role in the team missing the playoffs last year.

  10. allsport1980 - Mar 18, 2014 at 10:13 AM

    Russell Martin still talking about the contract he didn’t get is pretty funny. Martin is an avg at best player and the Yanks figured they could save some money last year, but getting other guys a shot. Cervelli looked good but then got injured. Romine started to come around in the 2nd half but then he got hurt and Stewart was what was left over. Martin is and was replaceable and the Yanks were smart to let him walk. You simply don’t bend over backwards for avg players.

    • mmeyer3387 - Mar 18, 2014 at 11:29 AM

      But Martin does handle his pitchers well and his bat is good during games. On the other hand, I agree with you that his overall batting average is subpar.

    • tchillen - Mar 18, 2014 at 12:04 PM

      According to Ken Rosenthal, Martin was willing to accept a one year deal for $8-$9 million from the Yankees*. How is that “bending over backwards”? Martin was a top 5 catcher this year.


  11. Darkoestrada - Mar 18, 2014 at 11:24 AM

    Martin’s analysis is flawed because McCann is a much different player than Martin. The Yankees have always valued offense out of the catcher spot and Martin was never going to give them that. Martin would have required a 3 year deal and would have prevented them from getting the better player, McCann, this year. If Martin was the difference in a playoff bid last year, maybe you could make the case that they made a mistake but since he would have made no difference, they ended up not having to pay him last year and getting a better catcher this year. Add in the park factors which suit McCann better than any other catcher in baseball and I’d say the Yankees made the right decision.

  12. friscoal - Mar 18, 2014 at 12:12 PM

    He’s absolutely right about that. Every team needs a #1 catcher whose weight is higher than his batting average. Martin fails to add that he was good at hitting NL pitching – stunk up the AL – and then went back to being good in the NL. Some guys just Can’t make it in NY.

    • nbjays - Mar 18, 2014 at 1:04 PM

      You do realize that you are making an assumption that McCann won’t have the same problem with AL pitching that Martin did. Time will tell whether McCann can, as you put it, “make it in NY”.

      • dirtyharry1971 - Mar 18, 2014 at 5:50 PM

        Lets see Martin was a right handed bat and McCann is a lefty, that’s gonna help McCann a LOT. And Martin has “never” been the kind of hitter McCann has been “ever”, as a matter of fact Martin hasn’t been a “decent” hitter since 2008 which was 3 years before he got to NY so we are comparing apples and oranges here. but from the comments ive seen by the bluegay fans on this threat I can’t say im surprised. Can’t you and cur watch some hockey instead? You certain don’t know sh!t about baseball that’s for damn sure

  13. vinniller - Mar 18, 2014 at 12:31 PM

    They needed more offensively between Swisher, Granderson and Martin. They decided to jettison all three but I think Martin should have stayed. The other two cost too much but I think Martin even though he had a low production year still hit in the clutch and provided exceptional defense behind the plate. He could have been re-signed and then the kids could have had time to develop, and this would have been a good and cost effective solution.

  14. gloccamorra - Mar 18, 2014 at 1:32 PM

    But how will McCann’s penchant for enforcing the unwritten rules of baseball play in NY? Martin wasn’t so hard nosed about that stuff, but he wasn’t the captain, Jeter was/is. Which one will be the general on the field in NY?

  15. chip56 - Mar 18, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    Letting go of a catcher who hits .211 with a .311 OBP is not a mistake.

  16. musketmaniac - Mar 18, 2014 at 3:58 PM

    Burnett, Martin, Tabata, Ohlendorf, Karstens and D.mcutchen. vs Nady and d.marte and little cash. Thanks yanks

    • dirtyharry1971 - Mar 18, 2014 at 6:02 PM

      and thank you for Marte who was “key” in winning the 2009 WS, just ask Ryan Howard about that. Id trade those 6 NL players anyday for a piece that helps win a Title

      • sparkyxproof - Mar 19, 2014 at 9:18 AM

        Marte really dominated Howard & Utley in some key game situations. I remember he was throwing them a Nasty unhittable Curve on the outside corner . They were defending against that Pitch every at bat.

  17. beachnbaseball - Mar 18, 2014 at 4:50 PM

    Russell……it’s been a year and a half! It’s done. Water under the bridge. Get over it. Your bat wasn’t scaring anyone. The Yankees didn’t want you anymore. Enjoy Pittsburgh.

  18. bronxbomber213 - Mar 18, 2014 at 5:04 PM

    Umm isn’t he the one who turned down the Yankees 3 year offer?! Did I miss something?

  19. veracityguy - Mar 18, 2014 at 7:54 PM

    I love how some fans have selective amnesia. Russel Martin was not the second coming of Yogi Berra. I think he handled pitchers well but his defense was only slightly above average. I think he killed more rallies than any other hitter in the lineup. When the Yankees let him go the plan was for Cervelli to step in. He was already a better hitter than Martin and pitchers liked to throw to him. But then he got hurt and suspended for PEDs and all that changed. Still I’m glad they didn’t resign Martin. He wouldn’t have got them to the playoffs anyway and I’ll take Cervelli over him, not to mention McCann.

  20. musketmaniac - Mar 18, 2014 at 9:34 PM

    Your welcome clint, I did not know that. although that was it. but enough.

  21. hbk72777 - Mar 19, 2014 at 2:31 AM

    Martin was good, McCann is better.

  22. sparkyxproof - Mar 19, 2014 at 9:14 AM

    There were a lot of Yankee fans who were questioning why they let Russel Martin walk at the time.

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