Behind almost every great pitching rotation, there is an experienced catcher who knows how to work with his pitchers.
That is the case with the Pittsburgh Pirates, who have been fortunate over the past two seasons to have had the presence of Russell Martin behind the plate.
After leaving the New York Yankees following the 2012 season, Martin signed a two-year deal with the Pirates, and the move paid great dividends for the organization.
In 2013, Martin led his team to the postseason for the first time in over 20 years and finished 24th in the race for the National League's Most Valuable Player award.
Now, as his team is currently in the thick of another postseason run, the veteran knows his contract will expire after this season.
Behind a smart general manager in Neal Huntington, the Pirates have risen from perennial losers to an all-around solid baseball team. Without Martin behind the plate, however, the team would take a serious hit.
Although Martin missed almost the entire month of May due to injury, he is having one of the best seasons of his career at the plate, batting .295 with 51 runs batted in and an outstanding on-base percentage of .417.
To put those statistics into perspective, no starting catcher has gotten on base at a higher rate than Martin has in 2014.
Now, age does have to be considered before the Pirates offer Martin a long-term deal, as he will turn 32 years old prior to the start of the 2015 regular season.
Still, Martin hasn't shown any signs of slowing down any time soon, and his presence both in the lineup and behind the plate calling games has been hard to match. Based on the way he has played over the past two seasons for the Pirates, there is no reason for them to doubt his ability to perform into his mid-30s.
According to a report on Pittsburgh's local CBS radio show 93.7 The Fan, Pirates broadcaster Bob Walk believes in Martin's playing abilities despite the fact that he is getting up there in age.
It would scare me with an awful lot of guys. With Russell Martin, I’m not sure it would scare me, because I know what kind of shape he is in. I know how he takes care of his body. Now, that doesn’t necessarily guarantee anything, for the future. Age is age. You can’t stop that. But, if there’s anybody that has a younger body than what the number says on the back of the baseball card, I would say it’s Russell Martin.
Another thing to consider for the Pirates is the team's farm system, and according to a report from Baseball America, Pittsburgh's No. 8 prospect is a catcher by the name of Reese McGuire.
However, McGuire is just 19 years old, and he is currently playing for Single-A West Virginia. The young prospect is doing well there this season, batting .265 with 99 hits in 94 games.
Regardless, the Pirates probably wouldn't even consider bringing this kid up to the major leagues without any experience past Single-A minor league baseball.
The Pirates have an array of talented offensive stars such as Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez who can do damage with just one swing of the bat, but it is Russell Martin who is the main leader on the field.
Solid catchers like Martin are not easy to come by in the major leagues, but it is this type of player who usually makes the biggest difference both on the field and in the clubhouse.
The Pirates need Martin's leadership, and if they want to continue to build on what is already a solid foundation of young players, Huntington and the Pirates organization should bring Martin back for another couple of seasons.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference
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