Among the many free agents the Chicago Cubs are reportedly targeting this offseason, Russell Martin might be the most divisive. Some see the value in adding a veteran catcher with excellent receiving skills, while others say the expected price tag and offensive regression are too much to stomach.
For me, I fall pretty strongly into the first group, and I might even go so far as to argue that, because of the availability of pitching over the next 15 months (and the general unease that comes with signing a pitcher over the age of 30 to a $100+ million deal), Martin might be the single best free agent target for the Cubs right now. I haven’t quite made that argument, mind you … but I’m getting close.
The Cubs reportedly will pursue Martin this offseason, and you can read more on their interest and the fit here from Patrick Mooney and here from Jesse Rogers. Mooney looks at the difficult choice between Martin and incumbent Welington Castillo, and Rogers gets into catcher aging curves, indicating that Martin’s performance could remain solid on into his mid-30s, even if he has to play fewer games. Both are good reads.
Bruce Levine also writes about Martin and the Cubs, and is now reporting that the Cubs have already met with Martin to start discussing a possible deal. Martin has until Monday to reject his qualifying offer from the Pirates, which he will undoubtedly do. Once that’s rejected, it’s off to the races.
In the first piece, Levine gets into Castillo as a trade candidate if the Cubs should sign Martin, though I remain of the mind that the Cubs would probably be better off keeping Castillo at that point. Sure, he’s got trade value, but the Cubs have precious little catching depth, and, if it’s true that Martin’s load will have to be lessened as he ages, it would be nice to have Castillo around as one of the best “back-ups” in the league. Castillo is also a great insurance policy against a Martin injury, which might otherwise have the potential to upset the pitching apple cart in the middle of a theoretically competitive season, given Castillo’s experience with the staff.
If, however, the Cubs do decide to shop Castillo after hypothetically signing Martin, I’m sure they would find a very interested market. The upside for Castillo remains strong, and he’s cost-controlled for three more years of arbitration. Obviously the receiving skills would be questioned, but the other aspects of his defensive game are very strong. If the Cubs are sold on Rafael Lopez as a big-league-caliber back-up, then trading Castillo would open the possibility of having a lefty bat (Lopez’s) to pair with Martin, and spell him at the most advantageous times. Otherwise, the Cubs could look to retain John Baker or pick up a veteran like David Ross (with whom Jon Lester has had particular success – just sayin’).