Pirates making push for free agent catcher Martin

Rob Biertempfel
| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 11:50 a.m.

Seeking to fill a glaring hole in their lineup, the Pirates are pursuing free-agent catcher Russell Martin.

Two industry sources confirmed Wednesday the Pirates might be set to make an offer for Martin, who spent the past two seasons with the New York Yankees. Martin made $7.5 million this year.

Michael McKenry, whom scouts say is better suited for a backup role, is the only experienced catcher on the 40-man roster. Rod Barajas caught 99 games this season, but the Pirates declined his option for 2013 after he batted .206 and struggled defensively.

General manager Neal Huntington declined to comment specifically about Martin, but said a catcher is on his offseason shopping list.

“We'd like to get a guy who can handle a pitching staff and do the job defensively,” Huntington said. “That's the easiest area on the team for us to upgrade. But we also need offensive production. It's hard to find a player who can do both.”

Martin, 29, is a superb defensive catcher and is skilled at framing pitches. However, he hit just .211 this year and, as a right-handed pull hitter, could see some of his power neutralized by the roomy left field at PNC Park.

Also, by completing a pair of small trades, the Pirates picked up some minor-league depth and a versatile pitcher for their bullpen.

The Pirates acquired right-hander Zach Stewart from the Boston Red Sox for a player to be named. They also sent two minor leaguers to the Kansas City Royals for righty Vin Mazzaro and first baseman Clint Robinson.

Luis Rico and Luis Santos, who both pitched this year in the Dominican Summer League, were dealt to the Royals. To open space for Mazzaro and Robinson on the 40-man roster, infielders Yamaico Navarro and Matt Hague were designated for assignment.

Mazzaro, 26, could be used as a fifth/spot starter or as a long reliever. It's the sort of role Jeff Karstens filled the past couple of years. Karstens, who is arbitration eligible, is a candidate to be non-tendered by the midnight Friday deadline, which would make him a free agent.

“Mazzaro has done multiple roles for Kansas City,” Huntington said. “But he pitched more out of the bullpen toward the end of the season and had some success. We'll bring him to spring training with the idea that he can be a multiple-inning guy, but he's also got some pitches that are very effective as a reliever. We're not locking him into any role yet.”

Mazzaro was Oakland's third-round pick in 2005. In 2009, he began his career with 17 23 straight scoreless innings, the longest by a starter in A's history. In 66 games (45 starts) in the majors, Mazzaro is 15-21 with a 5.22 ERA and a 1.622 WHIP.

The addition of Robinson could create a crowd at first base, assuming both Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez are tendered contracts, but is most likely to begin the year at Triple-A Indianapolis.

Robinson, 27, has been a productive hitter in the minors, batting .309 with a .889 OPS the past two years at Triple-A Omaha, but he was blocked at the major-league level by Eric Hosmer. Robinson, who bats left-handed, went hitless in four pinch-hit at-bats last year with the Royals.

Stewart, 26, was designated for assignment last week by Boston. He has one option remaining, so he likely will open the season at Indy. In 33 outings (14 starts) in the majors, Stewart is 3-10 with a 6.82 ERA and 1.650 WHIP.

Steward bounced around with the Cincinnati Reds, Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago White Sox before being dealt to Boston in June as part of the Kevin Youkillis deal. He made two starts for the Red Sox and gave up 14 earned runs in 5 23 innings for a 22.24 ERA.

Notes: The Pirates saw their season ticket renewals increase by 6 percent in 2012 and are expecting similar growth next season. “We are pacing significantly ahead of last year's pace, which was significantly above the previous year's pace,” said team president Frank Coonelly, who declined to divulge specific numbers. ... The Pirates have added four scouts: Ricky Bennett, Carlos Berroa, Ron Hopkins and John Kosciak. Bennett was the former scouting director of the Houston Astros and Hopkins was the former scouting director of the Texas Rangers.

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