Russell Martin: Why Yankees' Surprise Star May Lead to Trade of Jesus Montero

Stephen Meyer@@StephenMeyer_BRDeputy MLB EditorApril 27, 2011

BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 23:  Russell Martin #55 of the New York Yankees is congratulated by third base coach Rob Thomson #59 after hitting a solo home run during the eighth inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on April 23, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman has had a bull’s eye on his chest since before I can remember—both from opposing fans attacking his spending habits and impatient fans attacking any missed opportunity.

Though many criticisms of his pitching decisions are warranted, his ability to make moves without writing the big check has been underrated at times.

Much like his savvy Jon Lieber move—in which Jon overcame surgery to go 14-8 in addition to making three excellent playoff starts—Cashman put away the checkbook this offseason in favor of good old fashioned scouting.

He took chances on Eric Chavez, Bartolo Colon, Freddy Garcia, Andruw Jones and Kevin Millwood, and all are making him look like a very smart man.

None of these, however, is his greatest move in preparing for the 2011 season. That would be scooping up a 28-year-old former All-Star catcher for the price of a middle reliever.

Russell Martin was just what the Yankees needed in a backstop—especially in a year that Jorge Posada would be bowing out gracefully from the crouch he called home for 15 MLB seasons.

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Martin has been far better than advertised, as he currently lands in the top five in the American League in home runs (six), slugging percentage (.656) and OPS (1.047).

The irreplaceable contributions to the Yankees don’t end there for Martin, as he has been an excellent clubhouse presence and a respected caretaker of a pitching staff held together by gum and duct tape.

The French-Canadian—in conjunction with new pitching coach Larry Rothschild—achieved in just two short weeks what others had failed to do for 12 seasons prior.

New York’s duo convinced A.J. Burnett to step out of his comfort zone, trust them completely and transform a developing changeup from novelty into weapon.

Now, the Yankees must ask themselves if April was merely a coincidental hot start or whether Martin is showing signs of a return to health and to his past stardom.

If they decide the latter, especially considering Martin’s age, he may just be the perfect placeholder until heralded prospects Austin Romine and Gary Sanchez mature into MLB-ready options.

Injury fears will always be at the epicenter of any Martin extension conversations, but his resurgence could allow New York to swap some of their catching depth for much needed pitching help.

Could the first prospect sealed for delivery be none other than the No. 1 prospect in their system?

Hitting phenomenon Jesus Montero suddenly becomes expendable if Martin is tabbed as a multi-year filler, and Montero’s unique bat makes him the most coveted piece New York has to offer.

If Triple-A performance is any indication, Montero is more than ready for a shot at the big leagues—he’s batting .407 with a .925 OPS in about 60 AB.

The Yankees need a front-of-the-rotation starter, and no one would hesitate to second that notion.

The only way they can acquire one without giving up the nearly untouchable LHP Manny Banuelos, however, is to hand over Montero on a silver platter to anyone with a top arm.

In an ideal world, the Yankees would be able to pry a Dan Haren, Jered Weaver, Jonathan Sanchez or Gio Gonzalez away from a rotation—though I’m not sure that will end up being much more likely than obtaining Felix Hernandez.

What we do know is the Yankees are having their eyes opened to the fact that Russell Martin, if healthy, can provide years of production at a position they have three top prospects at.

It is far too early to count on Martin’s body holding up until July—let alone until 2014—but continued success would put the thought in the back of their minds moving forward.

I’m as much an advocate of Montero’s bat translating favorably to MLB as any scout around the league, but I think he is the fourth best long-term catching option in the organization.

Alex Rodriguez’s need to DH at a much higher frequency as he ages—coupled with Mark Teixeira’s lengthy contract at 1B—makes it difficult to imagine Montero cementing himself at any other position.

I think Montero will be dangled at the deadline for that very reason, and Yankees fans may be forced to watch another “Fred McGriff” grow into a superstar bat in another city.

Nevertheless, it will unquestionably be the right move if that sacrifice leads to five to seven prime years of a top end starter in the Bronx.