The tenor of public comments lately from Chicago Cubs executives have painted the picture of an offseason where the organization will focus on picking up at least one impact starting pitcher, a second quality starting pitcher, and then complementary, veteran offensive pieces, rather than an impact starting offensive player. Obviously this front office is never going to say, with 100% certainty, precisely what they’re going to do, but you can understand the factors that lead to this kind of offseason plan: (1) the Cubs need impact pitching, (2) although the offense has been an issue in recent years and could be an issue again next year, offense is probably not the long-term need, (3) available impact offensive pieces are going to be few and far between this offseason, and (4) veteran complementary pieces could really help with the Cubs’ twin desires to compete next year but also develop their young players at the big league level.
All that said … the front office rules nothing out. They know that adding a quality, regular offensive piece could pay huge dividends in the coming years, if it came in the right spot, and the deal made sense. Could that piece be an upgrade behind the plate? Could it be top catching free agent Russell Martin?
We’ve seen the Cubs connected to Martin multiple times already this year, and, even as much as there is to like about Welington Castillo, you wonder if the team as a whole could be upgraded by bringing in someone like Martin (or, since we’re on the subject, Miguel Montero in trade). Earlier this week, we discussed the Cubs’ extreme woes with pitch framing, something at which Martin excels, and he’s obviously a veteran guy who handles a staff well. In some ways, the offense that Martin could bring – don’t bet on a total repeat of this season’s breakout – is merely the cherry on top of his value. Moreover, because the Cubs are at least a couple years away from having a regular catching prospect emerge in the bigs (and, even then, it could be someone like Kyle Schwarber, who projects to be more of a part-time-catching-part-time-outfielding guy), signing someone like Martin doesn’t realistically and immediately block a top prospect.
That is all to say: even as the Cubs rightly focus on pitching this offseason, I’d still like to see them following Martin’s free agency to see if there’s a deal that makes sense. To that end, there are a variety of Martin bits to discuss …
- Will Martin even get to free agency? Well, Pirates owner Bob Nutting tells TribLive that he is willing to “stretch” to keep Martin in the fold. We’ll see if they can stretch enough to prevent Martin from wanting to see what else is out there. That seems unlikely. Instead, they’ll do some negotiating, he’ll figure out where they stand, and then free agency will proceed. Maybe he comes back to Pittsburgh, or maybe he cashes in on some accelerating value.
- How about that price, though? My back-of-the-napkin valuation put Martin at something like four years and $66 million, but Joel Sherman suggests that the deal could actually be in the four-year, $52 million range. If that’s where Martin actually ends up, it better be with the Cubs, because that’s a steal, even if Martin winds up the back-up catcher in years three and four.
- … but as Travis Sawchik points out, recent deals for comparable catchers have been significantly higher. Martin’s age makes for an imperfect comparison, but you can see how Brian McCann’s five-year, $85 million deal is going to be the one Martin seeks to duplicate. Martin is two years older now than McCann was when he inked his deal, however. I still think the final deal winds up in the four-year, $60 to $70 million range.
- Jon Heyman reports that the Pirates tried to extend Martin mid-season, but it didn’t happen, and it doesn’t look like they’ll get a deal done before free agency. He mentions the Cubs, Red Sox, Rangers, and Dodgers as possible suitors.
- Mark Gonzales recently wrote that Martin remains an attractive option for the Cubs. Or they could go with a trade option like Kurt Suzuki (to whom they were connected before last season), who had a BABIP-induced offensive resurgence in 2014. I’m not sure his defensive skills are what they once were, and Suzuki rates as one of the worst pitch-framers in baseball. Not sure that’s the route for the Cubs.
- Yes, Martin projects to regress offensively next year, by the way, after seeing his BABIP on every kind of batted ball spike last year. But he still figures as a very valuable player, even without considering leadership, pitch framing, work with pitchers, etc.