Sep 21, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin (55) hits an RBI single against the Milwaukee Brewers during the seventh inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
On Monday, the St. Louis Cardinals smacked NL Central teams with a double shot of bad news by acquiring rightfielder Jason Heyward from the Atlanta Braves. Not only did the Cards upgrade their offense, but they plucked one of the best available players from a thin trade market. The Cincinnati Reds and their brethren got a tick to the good, though, when Pittsburgh Pirates free agent catcher Russell Martin signed a five-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays.
While some might question how sound Toronto’s decision to commit $82 million to a 32-year-old catcher is, there is no denying that the Pirates will miss Martin in a number of ways.
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Although Martin rarely plays anything close to a full slate of game, he has been one of the better hitting catchers in the Major Leagues during his career, and in 2014 he slashed to the tune of .290/.402/.430, with 11 homers and 67 RBI in 111 games. His 39% rate of catching would-be base thieves would have topped the Majors had he accrued enough playing time to qualify for “average” titles.
But it is his handling of pitchers and his pitch-framing that usually garners the biggest accolades, and there is evidence to suggest that it’s not all smoke. The StatCorner Catcher Report, for instance, ranks Martin as the ninth best catcher in terms of framing pitches. If you prefer catcher ERA, ESPN says that Martin would have had the fourth lowest (best) mark, again, had he qualified..
Either way you look at it, the Bucs will miss having Martin behind the plate.
Of course, you could argue that the Pirates will be better off in the long run for having NOT shelled out $80 million+ for an aging catcher, and you would be right. But that’s the long run.
In 2015, the Pirates will almost certainly be worse for having lost Martin, and that means they will struggle to make it to the playoffs for a third straight year, especially with the improving Cardinals and Chicago Cubs slugging it out in the same division.
It also means that the Reds should have a slightly easier time picking up wins against Pittsburgh than they have in recent years. Martin’s absence won’t be enough of a difference to help the Reds make the playoffs, and it might not even allow them to finish ahead of Pittsburgh, but it helps.
And we need every ray of sunshine we can get as Reds fans in the winter of 2014-15.