10 New York Yankees Catching Options If Russell Martin Leaves This Winter
The New York Yankees wisely passed on making free-agent catcher Russell Martin a qualifying offer worth $13.3 million before Friday's deadline, but that doesn't mean they don't want him back.
On the contrary, Anthony McCarron of the New York Daily News has reported that Martin's agent has had discussions with the Yankees and that the interest between the two sides is mutual. The smart money is on Martin returning to the Yankees for the 2013 season, and perhaps beyond as well.
However, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com had a point when he noted that Martin could end up being the top catcher on the open market this winter. This year's free-agent crop is pretty weak at catcher, and he could draw lucrative offers based on his youth and his durability. Such things are rare when it comes to free-agent catchers.
If Martin ends up signing elsewhere, Brian Cashman is going to have to improvise. Here's a look at 10 other catchers he could pursue if he has to replace Martin as the club's primary catcher.
10. Free Agent: Miguel Olivo
The fact that Miguel Olivo made the cut for this list goes to show just how weak the catching market is this year.
Olivo's best days as an offensive player are in the past, as he's watched his OPS decline from .781 in 2009 to .765 in 2010 to .641 in 2011 to .620 in 2012. It doesn't help that he can't even blame Safeco Field for his offensive struggles in the last two seasons, as his home/road splits were surprisingly even. In fact, he actually hit better at home in 2012 than he did on the road.
Still, Olivo is still a decent defensive catcher, and he's a guy that the Yankees could stick in the crouch for right around 100 games if need be. He only played in 87 games in 2012, but that was due to him sharing playing time with Jesus Montero and John Jaso more than anything else.
The Mariners declined an option that would have paid Olivo $3 million in 2013, and he's probably not going to do any better than that on the open market. So at the very least, Olivo could be a dirt-cheap, one-year option for the Yankees. He wouldn't be a steal, but he could give them solid value simply by being out there on a regular basis.
I'd consider Olivo to be Plan Z for the Yankees. Which would make Plan Y...
9. Free Agent: Rod Barajas
Rod Barajas is in pretty much the same boat as Miguel Olivo. The Pirates declined to pick up an option that would have paid him $3.5 million in 2013, putting Barajas in a position to take what he can get on the open market.
Barajas is a little older than Olivo, but he's a little more worthy of an investment because he still has some pop in his bat. He hit 11 home runs in 104 games in 2012, including eight away from PNC Park.
Getting Barajas away from PNC Park for a full season could lead to an uptick in his overall production. He managed just a .548 OPS in home games in 2012, but he had a much more respectable .708 OPS on the road.
Barajas has become a defensive liability in the twilight years of his career as well as an offensive question mark, but he's a lot like Olivo in that he can at least be counted on to be durable. He caught just about 100 games in 2012, and that would be a fair expectation for 2013 if he were to join the Yankees.
If the Yankees think they can do better, they could always try...
8. Free Agent: Yorvit Torrealba
Yorvit Torrealba was a quietly solid player for the Rangers in 2011, hitting .273 with a career-high 27 doubles while matching a career-high with 113 games played.
Not so quietly, Torrealba was something of a disaster for the Rangers in 2012. He hit just .236 with a .636 OPS in 49 games with the Rangers, and he was ultimately replaced by Geovany Soto at the trade deadline. He was then released in early August.
If Torrealba's career track record is any indication, however, he's due for a bounce-back year in 2013.
For whatever reason, Torrealba tends to do well in his first year with a new team. He posted a decent .732 OPS in his first year with the Rockies in 2006 and a .721 OPS in 2010 with the Padres. He then had that solid 2011 season with the Rangers.
If Torrealba were to bounce back, he'd probably be good for around 100 games played and an OPS in the low-to-mid .700s. He'd thus be a slightly less powerful and much cheaper version of Russell Martin.
That would do for a stopgap option for the Yankees. Another guy who could fill that role is...
7. Free Agent: Gerald Laird
Gerald Laird didn't do his free-agent stock any favors in the postseason by collecting only one hit in 20 at-bats, but he still seems to think he has much to offer other teams.
"I know he's looking for a little more playing time," Dombrowski said. "He's looking for a little more finances. That's not going to come from us."
Despite his poor showing in the postseason, Laird picked a good time to shop his talents around. The .710 OPS he posted in 2012 was his highest since the 2009 season, and he also gave the Tigers passable defense behind the dish.
Because Laird only played in 100 games combined over the last two seasons, a club could take a gamble on him being fit enough to handle an increased workload. He may be able to catch around 90 games. Maybe more if he holds up even better than expected.
If Laird were to get this much regular action, it's possible that he could recapture his defense prowess from when he last played in over 100 games in 2009.
For a guy the Yankees could pick up for cheap, Laird thus has the potential to provide some solid overall value.
6. Free Agent: David Ross
Assuming this is true, it's actually not that hard to see where the Yankees are coming from. Per FanGraphs, Ross has always rated as an above-average defensive catcher, and he compiled an OPS of .816 over his last four seasons with the Braves.
The one question mark with Ross is how much action he could handle. He hasn't played in over 100 games in a single season since 2007 when he was with the Cincinnati Reds. He's in his mid-30s now, and the extra rest he's gotten over the last five years doesn't necessarily make him a candidate for regular action.
Still, there are ways the Yankees could make it work. They have enough catching depth to get by if Ross were to only give them 70 or 80 games or so, as Chris Stewart and the newly acquired Eli Whiteside could help share the load.
Ross is probably one of the safest options the Yankees could pursue. If they're looking for somebody with a little more upside, however...
5. Trade: John Buck, Miami Marlins
John Buck had the worst year of his career in 2012, hitting a career-low .192 with a career-low .644 OPS. His time in Miami, in general, has been brutal, as he's just a .213/.308/.358 hitter in 246 games with the Marlins.
Since Buck is only 32, however, is may be a little too soon to say he's washed up. He's worth taking a gamble on so long as he could be acquired for very little.
And it's likely that he could indeed be had for very little. The Marlins should know by now that they're not going to get much production out of Buck, in which case his $6 million salary for the 2013 season looks like a number that would be better off on someone else's payroll.
The Yankees could take on that kind of salary without batting an eye, and my guess is that they would be glad they did if they ended up getting 115 games and around 15 to 20 homers out of Buck.
Worth noting: When Buck last played in the American League in 2010 with the Toronto Blue Jays, he played in 118 games and hit 20 homers. The Yankees would be thrilled if he did that all over again for them in 2013.
If they're looking for a partnership for longer than just one year, there are four guys they should consider.
4. Free Agent: A.J. Pierzynski
Maybe it's just me, but the notion of A.J. Pierzynski on the Yankees is almost too weird to ponder for any more than five or six seconds.
But right now, it has to be considered a fair possibility if Martin heads elsewhere this winter. If he walks and Pierzynski is still available, the Yankees will surely give him a look.
Pierzynski will turn 36 in December, but he picked a darn good time to test the free-agent waters. He's coming off a season in which he posted a career-high .827 OPS while hitting a career-high 27 homers. He also fell just five games short of matching a career high with 135 games played.
The word from the Chicago Tribune is that White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is just as big a fan of Pierzynski as the club's fans are, but new GM Rick Hahn isn't about to let sentimentality rule his personnel decisions. He indicated that Pierzynski could go the way of Mark Buehrle rather than the way of Jake Peavy.
It's not hard to see Pierzynski getting a multi-year offer to his liking on the open market, and the Yankees could be willing to give him one if they think he could hold down the fort at catcher until Gary Sanchez is ready in a couple years. Assuming the price is right, of course.
The only question I have is whether Pierzynski's personality would be a good fit for the Yankees' clubhouse. He seems to have outgrown his reputation for being a clubhouse cancer, but he still plays the game with a little more attitude than your average Yankee.
If this concern didn't exist, Pierzynski would probably be at the very top of this list.
3. Free Agent: Mike Napoli
Now here's an idea that's all sorts of intriguing, but also all sorts of complicated.
There's no telling what kind of deal Mike Napoli is going to get on the open market. T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com opined on Monday that Napoli is looking for a multi-year deal worth an excess of $10 million per season, but he may not get anything like that after his OPS dropped over 200 points from 2011 to 2012.
If Napoli is seeking a multi-year deal worth that kind of money, the Yankees will pass. They can't afford to tack another seven-figure salary on their plans for 2014, as their payroll space is bound to be tight enough as it is.
But if the market forces Napoli into taking a one-year "prove it" deal, he and the Yankees could very well become partners. They could also become partners if the Yankees were to somehow talk him into accepting an annual salary worth less than $10 million.
If so, what the Yankees would be getting is a guy who's hit at least 20 home runs in five straight seasons and who is just a year removed from a career season in which he posted a 1.046 OPS. Sounds like a Yankee to me.
The only drawback is that Napoli isn't really a full-time catcher. He caught only 71 games in 2012, and only 60 games in 2011. He's more of a catcher-first base hybrid.
The Yankees could conceivably push Napoli to catch around 100 games, but the tradeoff would probably be a little less offense.
That would be worth the risk because—let's face it—a "little less offense" from Napoli is a lot of offense for most other catchers.
2. Trade: Nick Hundley, San Diego Padres
Nick Hundley was one of the most quietly productive players in baseball in 2011, posting an .824 OPS with nine homers in 82 games for the San Diego Padres. He went on to sign a contract extension during spring training.
And then everything went wrong. And I mean everything.
Hundley never got on track in 2012, hitting just .157 with a .464 OPS in 58 games at the big league level. His season included a demotion to Triple-A in late June and season-ending knee surgery in August.
To add insult to injury, Hundley had to watch top prospect Yasmani Grandal establish himself as a potential star in the making. Grandal played in 60 games and posted an .863 OPS with eight home runs.
If the Padres are looking to move forward with Grandal as their primary catcher, it makes sense for them to look around and see what they could get for Hundley. He may be coming off a bad year and a knee injury, but he still has trade value due to his youth and, as Dave Cameron of FanGraphs noted way back in March, the team-friendliness of his contract.
The low-risk nature of Hundley's contract should appeal to the Yankees, as it wouldn't interfere with their desire to get their payroll under $189 million by 2014.
If they were to trade for Hundley, fair expectations for a bounce-back campaign would be something like a mid-.700s OPS and above-average defense behind home plate.
That would do quite nicely, but there's one trade target out there who trumps Hundley and all the other entries on this list.
1. Trade: Carlos Santana, Cleveland Indians
Carlos Santana is one of the few players the Indians have who are actually worth watching on a daily basis, and he has a contract that could potentially keep him in Cleveland through 2017 at team-friendly rates.
So why on earth would they trade him?
Put simply: Because it would be the smart thing to do.
The Indians desperately need to add arms and rebuild their farm system, and Santana is a trade chip who could help them achieve either goal. And as ESPN's Buster Olney wrote in a recent Insider piece, it's time for the Indians to sell while Santana's value is still high.
Santana didn't hit as many homers in 2012 as he did in 2011, but the tradeoffs were increases in his batting average and his on-base percentage. Since he's still only 26 years old, it's likely that we haven't seen him at his best yet.
Yes, there is some concern about whether Santana is cut out to be a catcher in the big leagues, but that concern may be a little overblown. He caught 99 games this past season, and he actually rated as a solid defensive presence behind the plate. Per FanGraphs, his DRS was plus-two.
Santana's talents should appeal to the Yankees, and so should his contract. He has a $12 million option lined up for the 2017 season, but he won't make any more than $8.25 million in a single season between now and then.
That's a deal that even the penny-pinching Yankees can afford.
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