The Pittsburgh Pirates Best Free Agent Signing Ever
By Tom Smith
The Pittsburgh Pirates best free agent signing ever was Russell Martin.
The Pittsburgh Pirates best free agent signing in their history is playing out of his mind. The Pirates aren’t an organization that will ever be built around free agents, but the Pirates best free agent signing sure makes it tempting to want to feel that it should. Russell Martin deserves every accolade coming his way. Russell Martin also deserves the millions of dollars that will be headed to his bank account, again, very soon.
You know all of that.
But two years ago, nobody could pick Russell Martin out of a lineup of five Major League catchers. Fast forward to today and everyone from Bob Nutting to the renewed young fan base knows what “Super Russ” means to the Bucs.
That’s called winning in free agency.
Aug 13, 2014; Detroit, MI, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin (55) hits an RBI double in the third inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Jerry Crasnick recently wrote Russell Martin, Bucs Could Part Ways. The story is one that is familar to Pirates fans. Martin walks on his hands. Martin has amazing offensive and defensive statistics. Nothing really new in the article, for diehard Pirates fans anyway. Nothing that could match the excellent NY Times article written before he became a Pirate. The article starts with the Yankees catcher leaving the clubhouse at Comerica Park on October 18, 2012, the sting of a season-finishing loss starting to set in.
"Still, Martin was a dependable presence behind home plate, guiding his pitchers to a 2.76 earned run average in the postseason. He caught all but the last two innings of the Yankees’ 88 postseason innings. That included a streak when he caught every inning of five playoff games in five straight days, three of which went at least 12 innings. The 55 innings in five consecutive days established a postseason record.“And what people didn’t know is how banged up he is,” Girardi said of Martin. “Both of his thumbs were jammed. He could barely hold the bat.”"
That article impressed me and showed, just like he has proved in his time with Pittsburgh, that Martin is concerned about his teammates just as much as he is about himself. The article spoke about Martin off the field, another strong trait he has brought to Pittsburgh.
Jul 10, 2014; St. Louis, MO, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Edinson Volquez (36) celebrates with catcher Russell Martin (55) after throwing a complete game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. Pirates defeated the Cardinals 9-1. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
But one thing that is often overlooked is Martin has helped the Pirates pitching staff become respectable once again. Just look at all of the salvage yard pitchers the Pirates have been able to help turnaround….A.J. Burnett. Francisco Liriano. Edinson Volquez. Vance Worley. The list is long.
Most of the credit for those pitchers and several others goes to Jim Benedict, Ray Searage, and the Bucs staff. We think Russell Martin has a lot to do with it as well. From scouting reports, framing pitches, to blocking ridiculous breaking balls in the dirt to throwing out runners, Martin helps pitchers more than fans ever imagined a catcher could.
All of those qualities are earning more and more cash in Major League Baseball. So it seems very likely the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to write a check and not even pay too much attention to the dashes and decimal points in it. It will be a check so large, that Martin simply isn’t going to be able to walk away from it.
That’s baseball in the here and now.
Aug 11, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin (55) celebrates with the dugout after hitting a solo home run against the Detroit Tigers during the sixth inning in an interleague game at PNC Park. The Pirates won 11-6. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
It’s hard to accept when looking at how much money Martin has earned and perhaps more importantly, saved the Pirates. But those dollars are in the bank. I truly believe the Pirates will try to keep him in Pittsburgh, but let’s face it–it’s really unlikely to happen.
Which brings me back to a quote stood out from the Crasnick article. One really important quote.
"“Russ has put us in a position where we got crushed when we brought him in,” Huntington said. “And if we let him go out the door, we’re gonna get crushed again.”"
I read that quote from Huntington at least ten times now. You know what? I’m not going to crush Neal Huntington for Russell Martin walking out the door. I won’t. Just can’t do it.
If Neal Huntington was a stock brocker, I would send my paycheck via direct deposit to the guy. Don’t laugh. I’m serious. Just look at what he has been able to do–the Pirates got at least a 10-1 return on their investment in Russell Martin. Nobody can ask for more than that. But that investment in Russell Martin is about to expire.
It’s time to find another under performing catcher looking to turn around his career—you know, just like the near-Mendoza line hitting Russell Martin was when Huntington and his gang of brokers signed him.
The more I think about it, there is another Russell Martin out there for Pittsburgh. That catcher might not have the athletic ability to play the infield–or lobby to play shortstop for Team Canada–and we probably aren’t too familiar with that player right now. But I bet Huntington and his band of hard working scouts have someone in their sights.
Martin’s departure sucks, but that’s life in the high revenue world of Major League Baseball. Crushing the man that signed Russell Martin, when no other team would pay what the Pirates paid, makes zero sense. Crushing the ball club that rested Martin in order to get every nickel of value from him on the field, makes even less sense.
It’s hard to watch happen, but it’s also fair to remember that the Pirates best free agent signing ever might be hard to beat. Don’t get me wrong, players like Martin are a special breed, but let’s not pretend that there isn’t another catcher out there that can do the job.
It’s just vital the Pirates find him.