Joey Votto a Cautionary Tale for Pittsburgh Pirates in Dealing with Russell Martin


Sep 24, 2014; Atlanta, GA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin (55) leaps back to first before the tag by Atlanta Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman (5) on a pick off play in the second inning at Turner Field. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

To hear the Pittsburgh Pirates tell it, they are willing to stretch their budget to re-sign free agent catcher Russell Martin this off-season.   Before they do that, though, general manager Neal Huntington and owner Bob Nutting may want to have a chat with the Cincinnati Reds about how their own big contract for face-of-the-franchise Joey Votto is working out.

In the spring of 2012, Votto was 28 years old and coming off back-to-back seasons that firmly established him as one of the best hitters in the game.  To reward him and keep him in town, the Reds crafted a monstrous contract that keeps Votto tethered to the franchise through 2024, when he will be 40 years old for most of the season.   Specifically, the new deal will pay Votto more than $220 million over its final 10 years, which coincidentally begin in 2015.

As he begins to climb that mountain of money, Votto is 31 years old and has missed 151 games since 2012 due to injury, notably a linger quadriceps problem that is a threat to flare up at almost any time.

No one is claiming that Martin will snag the same kind of dough on the free agent market that Votto wrangled from the Reds two years ago, but predicts that the backstop could be in line for north of $50 million over four or five years.

Joey Votto plays first base and broke down hard at 31.   The Reds were hamstrung in 2014 not only by the void created by his absence but by the drag his salary made on the team’s ability to bring in more help.

Russell Martin plays catcher and is already 31 years old.  He hasn’t played as many as 140 games since 2009, and he missed 51 contests in 2014.

Martin may be the heart and soul of a Pirates team that has made the playoffs the past two seasons, but the Bucs would be well-advised to think long and hard about sinking lots of, well, bucks, into an aging catcher when revenue is not exactly through the roof.

If the Pirates need proof of the perils of falling in love with a player, they need only look to the division-rival Reds and their lavish spending on Votto.  The scale of the investments may be different, but he consequences could be similar.