Yesterday, we brought the blog out of dormancy to discuss the possibility of the Chicago Cubs signing Russell Martin to a contract. A four-year pact would have been a risky move, especially with a $16 million per season price tag, but with Kyle Schwarber still at least a few years away from the majors and Wellington Castillo not exactly making a strong case to remain the team’s backstop, it would have made sense for the Cubs to make the move.
Of course, just because a move makes sense doesn’t mean that it will happen, and the Toronto Blue Jays swooped in and signed Martin to a five-year deal worth $82 million. That figure is likely well over what the Cubs wanted to pay out for Martin, who will turn 32 in February, and the added bonus of playing in his hometown was likely what sealed the deal for the catcher to play in Toronto.
For now, the Cubs are going to be forced to proceed in one of two directions if they still want to explore the market for a catcher. They can either sign one of the remaining free agents (Geovany Soto and AJ Pierzynski are the two biggest names still available), or they can pursue a player via trade. Arizona Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero has been mentioned, as the team could be looking to shed the remaining three years and $40 million left on his contract.
To be honest, free agency doesn’t sound like the way to go at this point for the Cubs. They have plenty of other needs, most notably at starting pitcher, and overpaying for a guy like Soto would almost be a lateral move to just letting Castillo continue on as the team’s catcher. Making a trade for a guy like Montero could make more sense, as a three year deal worth about $13 million a season isn’t completely unreasonable.
If the Cubs could find the right package of prospects to make a deal like that happen, it’s one that they should strongly consider. He’s a solid hitter, hitting 13 home runs and driving in 72 RBI in 2014, and his skills at limiting stolen bases were also on display for the Diamondbacks, as he gunned out 29% of would-be base stealers (good for fourth in the National League).
The Chicago Cubs have generated plenty of buzz already during this offseason, with the signing of Joe Maddon serving as notice that they are serious about becoming contenders sooner rather than later. Their rumored interest in pitchers like Cole Hamels and Jon Lester has only made those notions gain steam, and they are clearly looking to spend some money in free agency.
One player who has reportedly been on the Cubs’ radar has been catcher Russell Martin. In 2014 with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Martin hit 11 home runs and drove in 67 runs for the Buccos, and his .290 batting average was his highest since his second year in the league when he hit .293 for the Los Angeles Dodgers. His OPS was .832, and he eclipsed the .400 mark in on-base percentage for the first time in his career.
According to Ken Rosenthal, the Cubs are not only in on Martin, but they are also the “clear frontrunners to sign him”:
Executives involved in bidding for Russell Martin believe #Cubs are clear front-runner. Deal expected to be in four-year, $64M range.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 17, 2014
The Cubs’ interest in Martin shouldn’t be all that surprising, given their weak stable of talent at the position. Wellington Castillo had a decent 2014 for the Cubs, with 13 home runs and 46 RBI to his credit, but his OBP (.296) and slugging percentage (.389) lag well behind what Martin brings to the table for a potential suitor.
The veteran’s defense and leadership would also be welcomed in the Cubs’ clubhouse, but of course it would cost the Cubs a pretty penny to acquire him. Reports out have suggested that Martin could command in the neighborhood of $13 million in salary, and he’s reportedly asked for a five year contract.
According to Rosenthal, the Cubs would come very close to those demands with their offer. A four-year, $64 million deal would pay him above his asking price annually at the cost of one fewer year, and while there is certainly some risk to signing a guy to a long-term deal as he turns 32 years old, it could be a good move for the Cubs.
Castillo is a solid catcher, but Martin would represent a significant upgrade at the position. It would also help ease the pressure on Kyle Schwarber, the 2014 first round pick that is arguably the Cubs’ top catching prospect. Schwarber is still at least two years away from making an impact in the big leagues, and having Martin around to help him out in spring training and to play the position while he’s working his way through the minors could be a big boost for the Cubs.