First Pitch: Thoughts on Russell Martin For MVP, and the Wild Card Game at PNC

I’ve spent a lot of time the last few weeks working on the stuff you don’t see on the site. Specifically I’ve been preparing for all of the arrangements for the upcoming playoff coverage, along with getting the 2015 Prospect Guide set up. As I discovered last year, when the team you cover makes the playoffs, it can eliminate about a third of the time you have to work on the book.

With instructs starting this week, I wanted to see what information I still needed for the book. I spent a bit of time working on that tonight, until the point when I looked up, saw it was 3 AM, and realized that I have this nightly article where I usually give a few thoughts, and that article wasn’t done. So here are two quick thoughts I had today, before I get my five hours of sleep and head over to Pirate City for instructs tomorrow morning. I’ll be having reports from there for the next week or two, until I leave to cover the post-season.

**How good has Russell Martin been this year? After tonight’s game, Martin has a 5.0 WAR. That’s a win shy of Andrew McCutchen’s team-leading 6.0 WAR, although it doesn’t include the value that Martin brings with his pitch framing, game calling, and work with the pitching staff. You could easily make the argument that Martin has been the MVP of the team this year, and an MVP candidate in the league. That wouldn’t be a slight to McCutchen, who is having an amazing season. It would be a testament to how good Martin has been.

**Earlier today I posted the latest playoff odds, which pretty much had the Pirates as a lock for the post-season. After tonight’s win against Milwaukee, the magic number is down to five, and that number could go down in a hurry if they keep winning at the rate they’re going. I pointed out in the article that the division seems unlikely, since the Cardinals have a fairly easy schedule in the final week. That said, getting home field in the Wild Card game isn’t totally out of the question. The Giants have a difficult stretch, including three games against the Dodgers to start next week. Meanwhile, the Pirates play the Brewers and Braves (two teams that are fading), and the Reds (a team that already faded). It’s very possible that the Wild Card game could be played in Pittsburgh for the second year in a row.

Links and Notes

**Pirates Win a Game of Trends

**Morton to see Specialist, Gallardo’s Success against the Pirates

**Vance Worley to Start on Sunday After Charlie Morton Ruled Out

**Latest Playoff Odds Have the Pirates as a Near-Lock For the Post-Season

**Tyler Glasnow Named’s Pitching Prospect of the Year

**Tony Sanchez to Play in Dominican League This Winter

**Morning Report: Bradenton’s Prospect List is Strong at the Top

First Pitch

  • I’m in favor of resigning Martin for 4 years and I’d go up to $60 mill, but structure the compensation to make the first two years worth more, thus enabling an easier trade in the final two years.

    That said, in the annals of walk years, I don’t know if there have been many that have been more impressive for a 30+ year old player in comparison to his career norms. So yes, the likelihood is that he’s not going to match these offensive numbers in addition to whatever slippage in defense might be expected.

    So the only question is, given the Bucs are in win-now mode for at least the next three years, is there another catcher they either have or can acquire who will lead them to the promised land. If the answer is “no”, then you simply pay up. For the cost of this one player, you don’t care about 2018 because you can afford him for 2015-2017.

  • lonleylibertarian
    September 20, 2014 11:30 am

    Martin has probably made himself eligible for a QO – yes $15M is a lot – but it is for one year if he accepts – and that might be the idle outcome for the Bucs. One more year of Martin to see if he can sustain his offensive numbers. Probably the biggest problem with that is the Cubs are at risk for just their #2 pick – they are protected on their #1 since it is a top ten pick so they still might step up and make a huge offer.

    I love Martin and hope he can be signed to a reasonable multi-year contract. But I also think there are some things to consider.
    – yes he is very good defensively – but he is not the BEST – not even the best in the NLC defensively. Lucky is generally considered
    to be the better pitch framer and is a legitimate .300 hitter. Molina has slipped a bit this year – but is probably Martin’s equal
    – I think some of Martin’s success this year has come from his being well rested – he will probably start around 110 games. That
    number will need to stay about the same over the course of a 3-4 year contract. Somebody has to start the other 50-60 games
    behind the plate.
    – Opportunity cost – I actually think that given how much payroll is coming off of the books – or could easily come off of the books
    the QO is not going to be a problem next year – BUT putting $12M on the books for then next 4 years will reduce the
    flexibility for signing free agents and addressing other needs.
    – 30 year old catchers can break down fast – both Bench and Carter faded pretty fast after there age 31 seasons.

    • Well said. I think him accepting the QO would be a god send for the Pirates, but will never happen. Last real chance to cash in for Martin and he is unlikely to repeat this year at the plate. Man deserves to get paid.

  • lonleylibertarian
    September 20, 2014 11:09 am

    I looked at the second half WAR numbers for the Pirates – updated this AM – Min 100 Pas
    1. Josh – 2.8
    2. Martin – 2.6
    3. Marte – 2.4
    4. Walker – 1.7
    5. Mercer – 1.5
    6. Snider – 1.2
    7. Cutch – 0.9
    8. Davis – 0.3
    9. Sanchez – 0.1
    10. Polanco – -0.1

    What is interesting is how Marte has come around and is now contributing at an All Star rate – the Bucs top 3 are , 3, and 4 in the NL for the second half behind Posey.

    The other interesting thing is that Mercer and Snider have been solid contributors – Mercer ranks 24th in the NL giving the Bucs a total of 5 of the top 25.

    Cutch has not been in monster mode for a while – others have picked up the offense.

    • McCutchen is just tired from carring the team in the first half, when Martin took a couple weeks off, Snider played like his other five professional seasons, and Hurdle penciled Alvarez into the four spot for two months.

      • lonleylibertarian
        September 20, 2014 12:27 pm

        I think the minor injuries have taken their toll also – last year Cutch finished very strong – actually had better WAR for the second half [4.2] vs. [4.0]. In 2012 he had a second half drop – 2.2 down from 4.5 – not as severe. He does get “dinged” for his defense – looks like it propably costs him at least half a WAR

        • I argue that there isn’t really anything minor about a injury to the core, in a sport based upon rotational power. His defensive numbers have regressed toward his career averages after starting off abysmally. Hard to complain too much though, to be a good team you need depth and a lot more than one great player.

          • lonleylibertarian
            September 20, 2014 1:57 pm

            Agree – Minor was a poor choice of words…

            I just went over to Fangraph – hard to find any good in his defensive stats – they are still pretty bad…

            • I don’t put a lot of stock in stats that have cutch so low and pedro so high, stats are a tool, nothing more.

              • lonleylibertarian
                September 20, 2014 3:23 pm

                Who said Pedro was high – he has decent range – but I don’t think it was/is exceptional – I think Andrew set me straight on that a while back…
                Cutch has an average/below average arm and plays too deep – pretty much agreed to I think.

                • lonleylibertarian
                  September 20, 2014 3:33 pm

                  I just check on phonographs – Pedro ranked 15th-last among all 3rd basemen with over 600 innings at the position

                  • Don’t need stats to know Snider is SLOW, which is why Pgh usually plays him in Right (at PNC). Love his bat off the bench, but a larger sample size of D stats would likely expose his pylon-esque range.

            • I don’t put a lot of stock in stats that have cutch so low and pedro so high, stats are a tool, nothing more.

            • Maybe I worded it poorly, I wasn’t saying McCutchen is good in CF, just that his numbers have regressed back to his career average. Earlier in the year UZR/150 had McCutchen at -20, he is below average in CF but even is his bad years I don’t think hes is costing the Pirates 20 runs over a season, that is Matt Kemp like.

              • I agree and I love Cutch but Marte should be in CF every day.

              • lonleylibertarian
                September 20, 2014 8:38 pm

                Fair enough – but I think you have to make some decisions in the off season if you are the Pirates…

                If you want to be a “pitch to contact” team then you really need to upgrade the defense in CF – 2B – 1B and RF and empty the bank to sign Martin. If not then you have to try and get more swing and misses – which is going to be hard with the pitchers the Pirates have in the mix – Morton and Liriano – maybe Volquez can deal with that – but they have groomed cole and lately Worley to pitch to contact.

  • Anyone read the article about Boston trading for Pedro? Tim, since you have nothing else to do, what could the Pirates realistically get back for Pedro. Walker was also mentioned as a trade candidate.

    • There was a rumor over the winter the Jays wanted Walker for Lind and the Pirates turned it down. Also apparently the people in Chicago think the Cubs will be a bidder for Martin. I also heard the Red Sox were interested in Liriano as a 3 or 4, but have not heard anything about anyone after Pedro.

    • Just read it, seems that Boston would go Middlebrooks for Pedro, I wouldn’t.

      • The idea that Alvarez and Middlebrooks are of equal value is a bit laughable, years of control don’t really matter when Middlebrooks has a .237/.284/.412 career line, and trending the wrong way.

      • Pedro has a home run title in his bag. No way I’m trading that for Middlebrooks, who batted .188 this year and couldn’t start over Harrison at 3rd base.

      • I’ve been saying all year that boston or texas would be a good landing spot for pedro. It will be interesting to see what the pirates are going to get for him and where he goes.

  • Every time Martin has a good game the cash register rings and the Pirates don’t have the same amount of money in that cash register as a few other teams. I thought it interesting that a TV call in show had some nut call up and say he will have seen his last game at PNC if Martin is not retained. Somehow some fans in Pittsburgh think that they can threaten the Pirates into signing Martin, bad news for those people, Martin will go to the highest bidder and their showing up at the ballpark does not make the Pirates the highest bidder. Martin has been terrific this year, but this might be his best year ever and whether he can continue this kind of performance in what will be regression years to come is doubtful.

    • I don’t buy this “cash register” excuse. While it is very true that other clubs have more money to spend, this reality does NOT prevent Pgh from signing a free agent at market rate. If you don’t sign a guy like Russ – esp. when you have a need at the position – then when, if ever, would Pgh sign a top FA? If the answer is *never* as you seem to suggest, then fold the club now or just sell it and admit that a small mkt club will never win another WS. Pgh has a 4-5 yr. window to get to a WS with this club, so allowing regression is more expensive/wasteful than ponying up the payroll needed to reach the post-season. If a club w/ three legit MVP candidates is allowed to regress and miss the post-season, then the entire payroll is wasted, lost money, IMO.

      • Years of the contract are the key. Pirates are likely to offer good money at a 2-3 year deal, but they arent (and shouldnt) be wanting to throw whatever money it takes for 4 years. Pay for what he will do, not has done. Unlikely a 35-36 year old catcher will be worth 12 million. Particularly since he may be playing only 80-100 games a year.

        • 3yrs/$36mil. might be enough to keep Russ in Pgh. Does Pgh have the funds? Yes. Will GMNH/Nutting spend it? We shall see soon enough.

          The one thing we do know is that the Pirates are a lesser team w/o Russell Martin, and this is a team that can’t afford to regress, period. To miss the post-season is to waste a year of McCutchen’s career & contract – inexcusable and cannot be allowed to happen. Not sure how/why some folks on this board don’t understand this very simple dynamic… it’s about TIME as well as money. At some point Pgh may have to sign a FA at market rates in order to rescue/guarantee a post- season appearance during these precious “McCutchen” years. I don’t understand/ agree with folks who say this will “never happen”. A market-rate FA signing is probably inevitable unless you’re willing to waste the ENTIRE payroll on a lost season… a lost opportunity among very few opportunities that a small market club has w/ an MVP under contract.

    • Martin will be 32 years old at the start of next season. Those cash registers might not ring quite as quickly or as long for a mid-30’s catcher as what you might otherwise think.

    • While I agree that resigning martin has little to no bearing on whether or not fans show up. I however do not see how a fan deciding to either spend or not spend his or her money on a team can be considered a nut, fans and their money are the only reason pro baseball or any pro sport for that matter exists, something a lot of folks tend to forget or conveniantly sweep under a rug.

  • There will be no league MVP for the Buccos. Cutch, J-Hay, and Martin will all split some votes. As a Pirates fan this is ideal. Unfair that none of them will win the award individually, but what a season by those three and also Walker.

  • Cardinals are struggling big-time. Still winning, but jussssst barely.

  • Monsoon Harvard
    September 20, 2014 5:04 am

    As far as I’m concerned, keeping Russell Martin is going to be the measuring stick for Robert Nutting in this city.

    It’s ALL going to come down to THAT.

    I know it’s not just me, either. There are a lot of people in this city and all over the world who will say the same thing, whether the owner likes it or not. This will be his Waterloo.

    • If they get blown out of the water by Cubs or Dodgers, I think many be forgiving. If they don’t make a reasonable competitive offer and come up with some mealy-mouthed excuse, well, it could get ugly.

    • MH: Martin has been at the top of his game all year, and I think his conditioning has a great deal to do with that type of performance. I too want to see him back in a Pirate uni next year, but at the right price for a guy who just played his 104th game of the season. which is already 153 games old. When we got RM, it was the Pirates and Yankees, and I cannot remember any other teams being interested. Based on what he has done, I would think a 50% increase on his contract would be fair, and that means about $12.5 mil per year. Where would you place his worth for a long term contract?

      • What if he just decides that he wants to play somewhere else ? Then whose fault would that be ?

        • He clearly seems to love it in Pittsburgh with this group of guys, so I doubt that his “heart” drags him elsewhere. It will all come down to money, as usual.

          • It won’t only be his ” heart ” Andy. There are a lot of different factors that enter into career decisions like this with money usually one of the deciders. And a load of money from a team in a state with no State Income Tax, really good weather and a promising or already talented group of players might just do the trick. Prime examples ? See ,James Loney, and perhaps the best and most recent, A.J. Burnette !

            • leo: This is a kid from Montreal, Quebec, Canada who also spent time in Europe growing up. He has played 5 years in Los Angeles, and two more years in New York City – all of those places have hefty tax burdens, and it has never been a consideration. Players left Pittsburgh or refused to come to Pittsburgh because it was the Death Valley of public relations, and players received very little national attention. That has all changed, and Russell Martin has enjoyed the popularity of the Pirates.

              Loney did not want to platoon and had his best career year with the Rays, and AJ got a deal that nobody could turn down. We collectively wanted to give AJ $16 mil for one year or $22 or $23 mil for two years. Instead we bought Edinson Volquez for $5 mil and he has been a better producer in 2014 than we could have expected out of AJ.

              • You didn’t have to go through Martin’s past, I am familiar with it. It seems you missed my point completely. Loney and Burnett were just examples I used as players who had other factors that entered in their decisions as to where to sign in a similar situation. If you, or anyone else, thinks that a decision based on a player’s ” heart ” alone will be the main factor, you have not been paying attention.

      • 3yrs./$36mil.

    • You might as well start complaining now, because Huntington isn’t giving Martin what it takes, nor would I. Give them a break, they have a World Series contender. Trust Huntington’s judgement, he’s earned it.

      • Joe, even if they do make Martin a very competitive offer, or even re-sign him, people like that will just find something else to complain about with Bob Nutting.

      • GMNH hasn’t earned it yet, IMO. If JHay doesn’t have the stunning season he’s had, them this is a sub-.500 team right now and GMNH would have to explain why he allowed a playoff team to regress by doing *nothing* in the offseason apart from replacing Burmett w/ Volquez.

        If Martin goes elsewhere in ’15, then Pgh will struggle to remain a playoff team, IMO.

        • meatygettingsaucy
          September 20, 2014 11:56 am

          Pirates record: 83-70

          I may not be positive here but I am pretty confident one player alone isn’t worth 14 wins.

        • Every team in baseball can say the same thing. Why act like the success are lucky and the failures are “SALE the team”? They kept Harrison and trusted his stuff enough to roster spot him. They signed Volquez amid fans negative reactions and let go of AJ amid near riots. Moves that al paid off. NH has earned some slack at least, and not “this is the move that dictates it all”.

    • People like you have been repeating that kind of crap for almost 5 years now. It is getting old an tired.

    • I’ve been gaining more and more confidence in Stewart as the season progresses. Early on he didn’t impress me at all, but recently he’s been totally solid. He’s arbitration eligible this year. Should be an interesting off-season in terms of catchers for this FO.

    • I agree. With Martin, our young pitchers, and the nuts to “go for it” during future trade deadlines – this team will be a legitimate world series contender for the foreseeable future. Without him, I have far less confidence. Pay no attention to leowalter. He is more interested in Nutting’s pocketbook than building a contender.

  • While SD is last in MLB in BA/OBP/SLG, they do have pitching, even with Ross out. Cashner could easily beat SF twice. Kennedy splits his two starts vs. Vogelsong, SF loses to Kershaw, perhaps Greinke. So a 4-5 finish is certainly possible.

  • Brian O'Donnell
    September 20, 2014 4:10 am

    Martin is the heart and soul of this team. MVP? Why not?

    • Lot of MVPs on this team. McCutchen is clearly the leader of the team in every way possible. Walker is probably having the biggest impact in terms of league-wide statistical dominance at his position. Harrison – where in the world would we be without Harrison???

    • I like the way NH described it. MVP is a guy that, if you take him out of the lineup, it changes the entire team. To me, Martin makes a good case, but without Cutch the entire lineup changes and guys roles are way different. Harrison is a big impact guy, Martin is a leader behind the dish, but at the end of the day Cutch is the guy in the middle of the order doing his thing and letting the rest do their thing knowing he is the meat of the order scaring other SP.