Ken Rosenthal wrote this morning that the Pirates had "significant interest" in signing free agent catcher Russell Martin, though the Yankees are still the favorites to retain his services. I've made a list of ways that the Pirates could spend money that would be worse than spending it on Russell Martin. I think it's comprehensive, but I'm not sure:
- Just straight up lighting bills on fire in a huge bonfire on Federal Street. For bonus points, charge season ticket holders to attend, then feed the fire with their money in front of them.
- Non-tendering Jeff Karstens and Joel Hanrahan, then instead of putting that money back into the team, asking for 12 million gold coins. Fill up a swimming pool with that money, then force Andrew McCutchen to dive into it head-first Scrooge McDuck style.
All joking aside, here are some real facts about Russell Martin:
- He hit .211/.311/.403 last year, which means that he can't really hit.
- He's right-handed, so his offensive skills might not even reach those levels at PNC Park.
- He'll be 30 in February so he's not really young.
- He made $7.5 million last year and the Yankees are interested in him, so he's not really cheap.
- He threw out a career-low 24% of base stealers last year. That's just barely below the league average of 25%, though I suppose the Pirates CS% of negative a million infinity probably dragged the league average down a bit.
Everyone talks about the defense, but even if he bounces back up from 24% CS last year, it won't matter if the Pirates refuse to hold runners on base again. So he's an aging right-handed catcher with declining offensive value and defensive skills that will be of dubious help to the Pirates. He's basically a younger Rod Barajas that's probably more likely to be a minor disaster than an abject one.
Pirate fans like to joke (or to seriously complain) about the team not spending enough money, but the Pirates poured gasoline on and put a flint to $11 million last year in the form of the Clint Barmes contact, then took an extra $4 million and just ran it through the shredder in the form of the Barajas contract. If they sign Martin this winter, they're going to waste $20 million over two years on three players that are barely better than replacement value and who offer no tangible upgrades over the much cheaper internal options the Pirates have.
The Pirates have money to spend. The Pirates do not have money to waste. If they sign Russell Martin, it's a pretty good indication that they can't tell the difference between the two. That's a really, really bad thing.
This is why it would be fun to read a column about whether or not we should sign Josh Hamilton. We all know it will never happen, and probably shouldn't. But, we spend winter speculating about spending money on players like Russell Martin and Clint Barmes. That turns into observations about frittering away rather large amounts of money on middling players. It would be fun to read a column about whether or not we ought to just put all our free agent eggs in one basket. I wonder what the comparison would be if we decided to go without the Russell Martins, Clint Barmes, Erik Bedards, etc., and if instead we just threw a ton of money at one really good player.
At this stage, Martin is a guy with decent defense, some power, and a marginal OBP because at least he'll take a walk once in a while--essentially, he's Tony Sanchez' upside. Martin's looking for a three-year deal, during which he's worth six wins if you're lucky. Sanchez might be worth that over the same time period, and you don't have to piss away $30 million to find out.
@TimFoley42 I think that maybe there's some confirmation bias in umpires being measured here, not pitch framing.
@TimFoley42 Pirate catchers ALWAYS rate as the worst. Good teams generally seem to rank high, bad teams low.
@nickjuneau24 I know the Brewers are rumored to be in on Hamilton, who are in a position competitively and financially that is somewhat similar to Pittsburgh's, and I can understand why they would want to kick the tires on Hamilton--there aren't any great teams in the NL right now, and if they think Hamilton makes enough of a difference that there might be a two-or-three year window where he enables them to sneak into the postseason party, it's an interesting "win-now" strategy. Hamilton comes with some durability and other issues, and if I'm NH I don't make that signing unless there's a gun to my head, but it's an intriguing idea
@whygavs Early on, Martin definitely seems like an upgrade in the art of pitch framing.
I know they won't sign Hamilton, and I am glad they will not. Maybe he is not a good example. Maybe a better example would be if/when a superstar who would fill a need on the Pirates hits the market. For example, if there was a big-deal and expensive 1B, 2B, SS, catcher, or starting pitcher who hit the market. Those are the positions we keep filling with these relatively spending but unproductive middle range players. I guess my argument is this: Positions of need should be filled by putting all the free-agent money in a superstar for one position, and then filling the rest of the positions through the best internal options.
Here, I guess Hamilton is a bad example for my point b/c outfielder is not a position of need for us right now.
@nickjuneau24 I wouldn't necessarily disagree with you. For a team like the Pirates, it's very much an all-in choice. You sign someone for a 7-year, $175 million deal like Hamilton, you're losing seven years of payroll flexibility. If that gets you a World Series title, it's worth it--but it's definitely an all-or-nothing proposition.