As the only real impact catcher present on the free agent market, Russell Martin really has the ability to dictate the market as he pleases. His demands have reportedly reached $75 million, and it's believed that he's seeking a five year deal. Whether or not he actually gets that remains to be seen, but there are already a handful of teams interested, including the Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, and his current club, the Pittsburgh Pirates.
There has been plenty of debate about how much Russell Martin is actually worth on the open market. Additionally, there's the question of whether or not you're paying for four or five years of his bat or four or five years of his glove. In one respect, there's going to be clear regression, as is typically the case with players at his age and the position. But in another, he'll continue to have value well into that deal. Identifying which one is which should be relatively simple to solve.
Martin had a fantastic 2014 season, which undoubtedly is a primary source of his obscenely high contract demands. He hit .290, his best output since the 2007 season, when he was with the Dodgers. This helped contribute to a slash line of .290/.402/.430/.832. Again, a brilliant season from Martin, but also unquestionably the outlier in his career. That doesn't mean that he can't be an offensive asset moving forward.
Martin's 2014 season was certainly buoyed by a .336 BABIP. However, there is a lot to like about his approach at the plate. His walk rate in 2014, up at 12.8%, was his highest since the 2008 season, when he walked at a full percentage point higher. While that OBP isn't going to remain up near .400 (or over that mark, like it was last season), he should still continue to be respectable in his ability to get on base. He walks plenty, he doesn't strike out a ton, and he has power from behind the plate (17 home runs per 162 games during his career).
His offensive regression is a point of concern as he prepares to head into his age 32 season. The team that signs Martin is going to be doing so more for his defense and his leadership than anything else, at least in the back end of such a contract. From that perspective, he's worth every penny.
Martin is solid, if unspectacular, as a blocker. That's not necessarily what he's known for, though, from a defensive perspective. One highly respected aspect of Martin's game is his ability to frame pitches. Martin was third in extra strikes due to framing in 2014, behind only Jonathan Lucroy and Mike Zunino. He's an asset in run prevention, particularly in relation to not allowing baserunners to advance via the steal. His Stolen Base Runs Saved (rSB) is routinely solid and was at six this season, tied for the best figure in the league.
While a team may be willing to approach his $75+ million demands, it's difficult to see him fetching that type of payday, even being the only impact catcher on the market. Something in the $12-14 million neighborhood seems more likely over a four year period, potentially five. Four years and $48 million seemed likely initially, but given the teams involved, we could see that creep higher.
What it all boils down to is how many wins Russell Martin has the potential to be worth over the course of a contract for his new team. He was a 5 WAR player for the second time in his career in 2014. Let's assume that he takes home the higher end of things and grabs a $14 million/year deal from a larger market team, like the Cubs or Dodgers. Taking a very generic number and saying that a win is worth $5 million, Martin would have to be worth 2.8 wins in each year of the deal to make that worth it, or about 11 wins overall.
Is that an attainable number? Absolutely. He's been worth that almost combined in his last two years, when he approached 5 WAR in 2013 before surpassing the mark in 2014. Consider that in regard to just defense, Martin was 16th in the league in Defensive WAR in 2014, at 2.01. His framing and ability to throw out baserunners isn't exactly something that is going to deteriorate.
His offense is going to fall off. He's projected to hit about .240 next year, but still maintain an OBP up around .340, a very nice looking figure for a catcher. His numbers are going to fall off dramatically next year regardless, given how absurdly outstanding his 2014 season really was. Even so, his approach, walk rate, and pop he provides should remain steady over the course of this next contract. Where the true value lies is with his defense, where he's a tremendous asset due to framing and his CS%.
Martin's going to get paid. He could return to LA, which looks a lot different than his first run there, or he could move to a great situation on the North Side of Chicago. Toronto's also in the mix for the Ontario native. A return to Pittsburgh isn't completely out of the question either. While there are those out there that question a heavy investment for a catcher in his 30's, the value is certainly there for Russell Martin and should easily be reflected in the dollar amount of his impending contract.
Randy Holt is a staff writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @RandallPnkFloyd.