The Pittsburgh Pirates remain publicly hopeful that they can bring back the guy who has been as instrumental in their playoff season as Andrew McCutchen. That other guy is catcher Russell Martin, an impending free agent to whom the Cubs have been connected, at least in speculation.
To the Pittsburgh part, Travis Sawchik has an interesting write-up on the situation. Even as he indicates the Pirates’ desire to retain Martin, GM Neal Huntington is bracing for his departure.
“We are going to try to do everything we can to keep Russ here,” Huntington said, per Sawchik. “[Martin] is one of those unique circumstances where we got beat up and highly criticized for signing him and if he does walk out the door, we are going to get highly criticized.”
Sawchik’s piece is a pretty spot-on take on just how valuable a guy like Martin can be, and how much he might get in free agency. That is, of course, of possible relevance to the Cubs, particularly as they decide how best to allocate their available financial resources over the next two years, given some conflicting inputs (they need elite pitching, but they also need a veteran/regular/productive offensive presence, but they have lots of offense coming, etc.).
Sawchik believes Brian McCann’s $17 million AAV from the Yankees last year sets the upper boundary of what Martin could receive on the open market, and adds that it’s unlikely any team would go over four years. That could mean that the final price for a catcher who turns 32 before next season and is coming off of a career year is in the four year, $60 to $68 million range.
If that strikes you as too high, consider that Martin has averaged about 3.5 WAR per year for his career, which could be a reasonable projection going forward. That smoothes out some of the ups and downs he’s seen, and he’s obviously aging. But keep in mind, the last two years he’s been at 4.1 and 5.3 (so far). That 3.5 mark might actually be conservative.
Let’s go super conservative, and say he falls to that 3.5 mark next year, and drops 0.5 WAR over the following three years. At $6 million per free agent win (which is probably too low, given the increase league-wide revenues), Martin’s valuation on a four-year deal looks like this:
2015: 3.5 WAR, $21 million
2016: 3.0 WAR, $18 million
2017: 2.5 WAR, $15 million
2018: 2.0 WAR, $12 million
Total: four years, $66 million. That comes with some conservative inputs, too. (Interestingly, I back-of-the-napkin’d this exercise without first reviewing Sawchik’s valuation approach as a kind of cross check. How about this: although we got there different ways, Sawchik winds up with the exact same $66 million in value over the next four years.)
Based on these figures, it’s a pretty fair bet that Martin will start by asking for something closer to five years and $85 million, which is what McCann got from the Yankees. Will he get it? I tend to doubt it – and McCann’s disappointing debut in New York won’t help.
If Martin winds up getting a four-year deal, though, you can bet he’s going to be in that $15 to $17 million per year range. Let that be your starting point for discussing whether he is a good target for the Cubs this offseason. Keep in mind: Martin is going to receive a qualifying offer from the Pirates, will decline it, and will thus be tied to draft pick compensation.
(If the Cubs do go after Martin, then, at least be glad they’ve got a protected first round pick. Without that, pursuing Martin wouldn’t even be a discussion.)