Update, 4:45 p.m.: YES Network's Jack Curry reports that Brian Cashman approached Russell Martin about a multi-year deal, but the catcher was not interested. Although an extension does not appear imminent, the fact that the Yankees even offered to discuss a new contract for Martin shows that the front office sees Austin Romine as an expendable prospect. It also makes clear how hard Cashman is trying to get the team's payroll under $189 million by 2014.
The New York Yankees and catcher Russell Martin are discussing a contract extension that would replace Martin’s current one-year deal with a new three-year contract, according to ESPN New York's Andrew Marchand.
Under Brian Cashman, standard operating procedure with the Yankees has been to never even discuss contract extensions with players. Why are the Yankees willing to depart from this policy, and what does it mean for the future of Austin Romine?
Much has been written about New York's desire to get its payroll under $189 million before the 2014 season in order to avoid massive luxury tax payments that were written into the new collective bargaining agreement. This is the driving force behind their departure from standard policy in negotiating a contract extension with Martin.
With Martin due to hit free agency after 2012, the Yankees would likely have to offer him an expensive multi-year deal in order to keep him beyond this year. The first year of that deal, 2013, would be the only year of the contract before the Bombers need to have their payroll under $189 million.
By locking up Martin before the 2012 season with a new three-year contract, two of the three years under the deal would be before the Yankees payroll needs to be under $189 million. Such a contract would allow the Yankees to pay Martin the majority of his salary in the first two years of the deal in order to lower their 2014 luxury tax burden.
For example, if Martin’s new deal is for $27 million over three years, instead of paying the average of $9 million per year during 2012, 2013 and 2014, the contract could call for $12 million to be paid in 2012, $12 million in 2013 and just $3 million in 2014. Either way, Martin is making the same amount of money during the term of the deal, but the Yankees' 2014 salary would be $6 million less.
If the Yankees do lock up Martin to a three-year contract, expect Austin Romine to become a trade piece this summer or next offseason.
Romine is currently slated to be Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre’s starting catcher this year and it is likely he will be ready to join a major league lineup perhaps as early as this summer. But his path to the major league ball club will be blocked.
What the negotiations with Russell Martin demonstrate is that the club prefers either Gary Sanchez or J.R. Murphy to Austin Romine as the future catcher of the Yankees. Locking up Martin for three years would fill the positional need until the day when one of those two prospects is ready to suit up at Yankee Stadium.
No contract has been finalized between the sides, but it appears that the Yankees believe that the benefits of extending Russell Martin are greater than the downside of making an exception to a policy that was used to avoid even discussing contract extensions with Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera and many, many others in the past.
It appears that the Bombers are extremely focused on trimming their payroll to below $189 million by 2014, and that they are willing to give up their established principles in order to achieve that goal.