Given the lack of other top catching options on the market, and given the apparently eager pursuits of many teams, including the Chicago Cubs, it’s been a reasonable guess for a while now that Russell Martin would be the first of the top free agents to sign (after Victor Martinez, clearly).
Throw in his relatively reasonable starting point in negotiations (I’m not saying he gets five years and $80 million, I’m just saying that’s not a crazy initial ask), and there is even more reason to believe a deal can be hammered out with Martin’s next team fairly quickly.
How quickly, though? After all, “early” signings for top free agents tend to come at the end of November or start of December. Anything before Thanksgiving is pretty darn early, especially for the biggest names.
But it could happen with Martin. Patrick Mooney reports that “there’s a sense” that Martin could decide within the next week or two. The Cubs are known to be aggressively pursuing Martin, the Pirates are known to want him back, and the Dodgers and Blue Jays are believed to be among the other interested teams.
Mooney’s piece is a great read on Martin, with a whole lot from Pirates GM Neal Huntington.
If Martin does make his decision soon, it could shape the rest of the Cubs’ offseason, whichever way he goes. If Martin agrees to come to Chicago, it could be the start of a series of additions – perhaps including other qualified free agents, given the reduced draft pick cost (Martin would cost a second round, the next would cost just a third, and so on) – and could allow the Cubs to proceed more comfortably knowing that at least one of their top targets has been secured. Further, adding Martin would give the Cubs some flexibility with respect to Welington Castillo, either as a back-up/time-sharing catcher with Martin, or as a trade chip.
If Martin goes elsewhere, however, the Cubs will have to seek out veteran leadership elsewhere, as well as an overall upgrade on the offensive side (to the extent Martin is viewed, going forward, as an offensive upgrade). They may also look to bring in a top defensive/receiving back-up catcher, like a David Ross. Bringing back John Baker is presumably still possible, also.
Missing out on Martin would also leave those funds available to be spent elsewhere on improving the team, though it doesn’t sound like there’s a direct back-up plan in place for that chunk of the Cubs’ flexibility if they don’t get Martin.