Russell Martin: Does Yankees' Interest Mean Cliff Lee to The Rangers?

James Stewart-MeudtCorrespondent IIDecember 11, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 20:  Russell Martin #55 of the Los Angeles Dodgers makes his way to first base against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium on May 20, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

The New York Yankees have made an offer to free agent catcher Russell Martin. They have made it clear to Martin and his agent that they view him as a "starting catcher."

At the beginning of the off-season, the Yankees had told long-time catcher Jorge Posada that they would be moving him towards the role of DH and away from an everyday catcher role. The assumption was that top prospect Jesus Montero would be given a chance to earn the everyday catcher's job during Spring Training.

Though he is considered weak defensively, Montero is an excellent hitting catcher and the Yankees' top minor league prospect.

Last season in Triple-A, Montero, 24, hit .289 with 21 home runs and 75 RBI in 453 at bats. In four minor league seasons, Montero hit .314.

While the Yankees continue to compete with the Texas Rangers for prized free agent pitcher, Cliff Lee, they have made little progress.

It was assumed that the Yankees would land Lee simply because they could offer him the most money. But while their initial offer of six years, $140 million was later increased to seven years, $161 million following the signing of outfield Carl Crawford with the Boston Red Sox, Lee hasn't given the Yankees any word one way or the other.

The Texas Rangers have also been able to keep up with the Yankees by offering Lee a choice of differently structured offers and met with Lee, his wife and his agent Darek Braunecker at Lee's home in Arkansas on Thursday.

But now that the Yankees have made an offer to Martin and told him they view him as a starter, is this the making of a trade for a pitcher that could involve Montero?

If the Yankees feel their position is weaker than the Rangers', they would need to have a Plan B should they fail to sign Lee.

The Kansas City Royals have expressed interest in trading their ace Zack Greinke and reports indicate that they would ask for a ton in any trade, and that would almost certainly include Montero.

The Yankees also have another highly-touted catcher in their farm system, Austin Romine. If the Yankees wanted to sign Martin to a one-year contract and trade Montero in a package for Greinke, they could perhaps use Romine as their starting catcher in the 2012 season and platoon Martin along with Francisco Cervelli next season.

Last season for the Royals, Grienke went 10-14 with a 4.17 ERA. But he won the Cy Young Award in 2009, going 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA and 242 strikeouts.

Greinke is due to make $13.5 million in each of the next two seasons, much less than the $23 million Cliff Lee would probably command should the Yankees sign him.

But Greinke also has a full no-trade clause, which reportedly includes 15 teams he would decline a trade to.

Greinke has also battled depression and anxiety disorder in the past and it is thought that performing on the biggest stage in baseball, New York, would be an issue.

But Greinke has also recently softened his stance on pitching in New York, so perhaps a deal could be struck should the Yankees lose out on Cliff Lee.

If the Yankees do sign Martin, it gives them the flexibility to package Montero in a trade for another starting pitcher.

Martin has seen his stats steadily decline over the last four seasons. After hitting .293 in 2007, Martin hit .280 in 2008, .250 in 2009 and .248 last season.

In each of those seasons, Martin played in 155 games or less and just 97 last season.

The Los Angeles Dodgers also signed free agent catcher Dioner Navarro on Wednesday, making a return to the club unlikely for Martin.