Even though Russell Martin (29) signed a two-year, $17 million contract with the Pittsburgh Pirates two days ago, the Yankees can be blamed for not bringing him back because they should have offered him a similar contract earlier. He obviously took the offer from the Pirates because he did not feel wanted in the Bronx.
He was the best available option at catcher for the Yankees as the possible free agent catchers don’t provide what Martin does defensively and offensively. A.J. Pierzynski has attitude issues, is old for a catcher (36 as of Dec. 30) and is not as reliable with the pitching staff as Martin. However, he can be relied upon to post a solid average. The other talked about free agent catcher is Mike Napoli. He is more of a part-time player who is more known for his offense.
Pierzynski would be the better option than Napoli, but the Yankees front office has said that they don’t have much interest in signing the veteran catcher who was born on Long Island. Pierzynski would be the better immediate option, but as it stands, it seems like the Yankees will wait to trade for a catcher in July.
Martin only hit .211 last season, which is not what it should have been, but he did slug a career high 21 homers. That is a high number from the catcher position and the Yankees will miss that offensive output behind the plate in 2013. They will also miss his speed on the bases, as he swiped six bases last season, but had a career high of 21 in 2007, which he could possibly come close to again.
Additionally, the Pirates have usually been the team that players from the Yankees have gone to after they could not help the Yankees anymore, like Ross Ohlendorf, Jeff Karstens and more recently A.J. Burnett, but Martin was necessary for the Yankees to keep. Martin was a finalist for the Gold Glove award, which went to Matt Wieters, and Martin is better than any of the catchers currently on the roster who will be competing for the starting spot.
The four candidates that will attempt to seize the catcher position that are on the roster are Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, Eli Whiteside and Austin Romine. None of the four offer the combination of offense and defense that Martin does.
Cervelli has enthusiasm while being solid behind the plate, but has not shown the ability to produce on offense. He is mainly a singles hitter. Romine is known for his defense and is one of the higher regarded catching prospects in the organization, but he not ready to be the starter. Whiteside is old and is essentially an unknown. Stewart spent time as the catcher last season while Martin was injured.
The Yankees would have a decent defensive catcher and one that is very productive with the bat if they did not make the Jesus Montero trade with the Mariners last off-season. (That trade has not been a success for the Yankees since Pineda has not pitched an inning for the team while Montero hit .260, with 15 homers and 62 RBI as a rookie.)
Unfortunately, Montero is not an option, so it seems like it could be a combination of Cervelli and Stewart, which I did not expect to see. They will need Cervelli to be able to hit in the clutch like he has at times in the past.
UPDATE: Eli Whiteside is no longer an option because the Blue Jays have claimed him off of waivers.