Russell Martin Also Sort Of A Thing

Russell Martin has had an incredible career for a headless man - Jim McIsaac

Rumor
The Seattle Mariners are interested in free-agent catcher Russell Martin.

Rumor source
Ken Rosenthal:

The free-agent catcher also is drawing significant interest from the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Pittsburgh Pirates, according to major-league sources.

Other rumor sources
Various

Rumor validity
Unknown

Rumor support
The Mariners have personally met with free-agent catcher/1B Mike Napoli, suggesting that a catcher could be on their wish list. If the Mariners are interested in one good, available catcher, it stands to reason they might be interested in another. The Mariners are not the only team interested in Napoli, as the Red Sox might have made him their very top priority. Napoli signing elsewhere would mean Napoli not signing with the Mariners, who would be left still having catcher on their wish list.

***

It's somewhat clear that the Mariners would like a catcher. On the face of it, it sounds silly -- less than a year ago the Mariners acquired could-be catcher Jesus Montero, John Jaso just hit the crap out of the ball, and Mike Zunino has hit the crap out of the ball below the major leagues. Zunino is on the fast track and Jaso just last season handled increasing amounts of work. What it seems like, though, is that the Mariners have determined neither Montero nor Jaso is capable of handling a regular workload. Or the Mariners don't want them to have to do that, anyway. It's not a secret that the Mariners aren't high on Montero or Jaso's defensive work, and scouting reports say that Zunino still needs more practice as well. Of course, scouting reports out of college had Zunino as being defensively advanced, and scouting reports used to say that Dustin Ackley was a defensive liability at second base. Some fraction of the time, scouting reports are complete bullshit, but here we are.

So, Russell Martin. The ex-Dodger and ex-Yankee is a free agent, and somehow he's still only 29 years old. Free-agent Martin is 29 and free-agent A.J. Pierzynski is nearly 36 and I would've believed you if you told me the exact opposite of that. I don't think the Mariners are going to sign Martin, mostly because I think the Yankees would really like him back. The Rangers, too, would really like a better catcher than the one they've got. But the Mariners have been linked and my job is to write about the Mariners sometimes.

You're wondering what Russell Martin wants. We've read report after report saying that Mike Napoli wants four years. Is Martin any different?

Could be misinformation. Could be accurate information! Is information. We have one report saying that Russell Martin wants the Chone Figgins contract, not that for our or his sanity we should refer to it as such. It's a reasonable demand, and Martin is more than a full year younger than Napoli is. Andrew Marchand doesn't think the Yankees would give this contract to Martin, which might boost the Mariners' odds, but now we're getting pretty deep into the fog of speculation and I'm a little creeped out. Everything in here looks like apparitions.

You're also wondering about Russell Martin as a player. Where Napoli is a part-time catcher, Martin has been a full-time catcher, topping a thousand innings caught the last couple years. He was at his best in his earliest days, but the same goes for many of us, and it's not like more recent versions of Martin have been valueless. As a Yankee, he was roughly a league-average hitter, and it's not like he was a sham, a product of the ballpark:

Martin, home, with Yankees: .224/.316/.422
Martin, road, with Yankees: .224/.318/.389

All of Martin's opposite-field home runs in 2012 were hit in Yankee Stadium, which doesn't come as a surprise, but Martin's offense didn't deteriorate away from the ballpark, so this isn't another potential Jeff Cirillo situation. I guess they're all potential Jeff Cirillo situations, but this one doesn't have that particular red flag in it.

Martin, of course, is not as good a hitter as Napoli is. Martin's just a hell of a lot more of a catcher. While Martin's thrown out just a few more runners, and while they're approximate twinsies in the area of pitch-blocking, Martin has the better reputation, Martin has been trusted as a full-time backstop, and Martin blows Napoli's pitch-framing numbers out of the water. I'm looking at Matthew's research, and since 2007, the difference between Martin and Napoli comes out as something in the neighborhood of two pitches per game. That sounds so insignificant until you sit down and realize that it actually is not. It is significant! We don't know nearly enough to say that Martin's pitch-framing is worth X runs, or that Napoli's pitch-framing costs Y runs, but evidence points to a skill separation, and it isn't little.

Martin is more of a catcher, while Napoli is more of a hitter. Napoli seems like a better fit for the Mariners on paper since they're chasing offense and since he offers more positional flexibility, but the Mariners don't exactly get to determine how all of this plays out, and you always need to have other plans. Plus, maybe Martin could offer more positional flexibility than his Baseball-Reference page would indicate.

Martin, a Canadian citizen, told Greg Hamilton, the Baseball Canada head coach and director of the national teams, that he wants to play shortstop in the W.B.C. Hamilton was receptive to the idea.
[...]
But shortstop is the infield position Martin actually thinks he can play best. He grew up in Montreal idolizing Ozzie Smith and, during batting practice the past two seasons, he would often take ground balls at short along with Derek Jeter and the other Yankees infielders.

Coach: /hits grounder
Martin: /pursues grounder
Ball: /reaches outfield
Martin: /dives
Jeter: /nods
Martin: /gets up
Martin: Just like The Captain!

When the Mariners signed Chone Figgins as a third baseman, they made him a second baseman. Maybe the Mariners sign Russell Martin as a catcher and make him a shortstop. I bet you didn't see that one coming, Brendan Ryan! Can you catch? Team still needs a catcher. Made the best catcher a shortstop.

That's Russell Martin. At present, he's a fine catcher, and if the Mariners think they need a catcher, they could do worse than bringing Martin in. I don't think they'll actually do it, and I don't even know if they're particularly interested, in truth. Martin isn't exactly the sort of big, brawny bat the Mariners seem to be chasing. One way or the other, one thing's for sure: clouds are fucked up. How do they work? Drop me a line, cloud scientists. I have questions I want to ask.

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