Pittsburgh Pirates fans have been expecting Russell Martin to be gone at the end of the year. The catcher is having a career year at the plate, and over the last two years the appreciation for catcher defense has gone way up across the league, increasing his value. Complicating the matters further is the fact that the Pirates balked at giving A.J. Burnett more than $12 M last year, stating they didn’t want to exceed a certain percentage of their payroll.
The payroll percentage restriction could be out for Martin. Travis Sawchik of the Trib quotes Neal Huntington, who says that the Pirates are re-evaluating how they distribute payroll, and that they might exceed 18 percent in this case.
If that does happen, then it makes sense. The Pirates don’t have many other needs that would require a huge investment. They’ve shown the ability to find pitching talent without spending top dollar, which means they can go the value route for that position. They can’t do that anymore with Martin. They went the value route the last time, when they signed him, but that value has been discovered by everyone else.
It’s possible that Martin could get a massive deal in years, dollars, or both. That type of deal would price him out of the Pirates’ range, even if they were willing to go beyond the 18% figure. But let’s take a moment just to see what that 18% figure might be.
Currently the Pirates are spending $81.4 M this year, and 18% of that figure is $14.6 M. That’s about what the qualifying offer would be, assuming the Pirates start the 2015 season with a payroll that is similar or higher than where they will end up in 2014. That’s not out of the question, since this is exactly what they did from 2013 to 2014. I think Martin is going to cost at least $15 M per year, which is right around that 18% mark.
But what if Martin gets a Brian McCann type deal (5/$85 M, or $17 M per year)? That would certainly be exceeding the 18% mark. Would the Pirates be willing to pay that much for Martin, or commit that many years?
Personally, I don’t think the money should, or will be the biggest issue. The Pirates will have the money to spend on Martin, and they won’t need as much of that money for other expenses and additions. The years might be the bigger issue, as that is where the real risk lies. Spending $15 M on Martin doesn’t sound bad in 2015 or 2016, but it could be a horrible move beyond that as Martin gets older. However, this is a risk the Pirates have to take. They don’t have any other options to take over for their current starter, and we’ve seen just how valuable Martin is to the team.
Overall, I wouldn’t rule out the Pirates bringing Martin back. And that’s not just based on the recent comments. It also considers the fact that Martin is expected to get paid due to his now appreciated value, and the Pirates were one of the first teams to appreciate that value. I doubt the appreciation has gone away, based on what Martin has done the last two years.
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