Pirates' new catcher Martin says team's deal was too good to pass up

Rob Biertempfel
| Friday, Nov. 30, 2012, 5:32 p.m.

Hoping to re-establish his reputation as a hitter and boost his future earnings, Russell Martin did not necessarily want a long-term contract from the Pirates.

Free agents usually don't sign with new clubs so early in the process, a few days before the winter meetings. But when the Pirates offered what Martin figured are the right terms at the right price — two years, $17 million — he pounced.

“For me, the timing was good,” Martin said Friday after signing the richest free agent deal in Pirates history. “I didn't want to wait around and take chances because you never know what can happen in free agency. It's only a two-year contract, but it's exactly what I wanted. This gives me room to prove myself and have another go at it in a couple years.”

Martin, who got a $2 million signing bonus, will make $6.5 million in 2013 and $8.5 million in 2014.

“We were willing to go one year, two years or three years,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said. “The deal got done at two, and we feel great about it.”

To get Martin, the Pirates outbid the Texas Rangers, who reportedly offered two years and $13 million. The New York Yankees, for whom Martin played the past two seasons, did not make a formal offer.

“It was the best offer that was on the table,” Martin said. “When somebody makes the best offer, it's because they want you. It's going to be a little bit of a challenge — it's something new — but I'm excited for it.”

Martin, 29, batted .211 with 21 home runs, 53 RBI and a .713 OPS this past season. He has decent power, but, as a right-handed pull hitter, could be challenged by PNC Park's vast left field.

“That gap in left field is pretty deep,” Martin said. “But that's where I have the most power, so I'm not too concerned about that.”

With a .311 on-base percentage, Martin ranked eighth among American League catchers with at least 400 plate appearances. His 10.9 percent walk rate was better than every starting player in the Pirates' lineup.

Martin struck out a career-high 95 times in 2012 — his strikeouts declined from 2007 to '09 but have climbed each of the past three seasons. His 19.6 percent strikeout rate was the worst of his career but still better than the Pirates' team average of 22.5 percent.

Defense is where Martin's arrival helps the Pirates the most. He threw out 24 percent (20 of 83) of base-stealers last season. Rod Barajas, the Pirates' starter in 2012, threw out just 6 percent.

Since making his debut with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2006, Martin has thrown out a major league-leading 216 runners attempting to steal. He won a Gold Glove in 2007 and was a finalist for this year's award, which went to Matt Wieters.

Martin is particularly skilled at framing pitches, a catcher's ability to set up on the edge of the zone and get called strikes. According to a defensive metric devised by Baseball Prospectus analyst Mike Fast, Martin ranked second in the majors in runs saved from 2007 to '11.

“It's like a cat-and-mouse game with the umpire,” Martin said. “You don't want to stick every pitch, but when you really need that one pitch, that's when you give it a good, stiff stick. The way I see it, it's my job to keep strikes, strikes.”

Notes: Martin will play for Canada this spring in the World Baseball Classic. With catcher George Kottaras also on Canada's roster, Martin hopes to play a bit at shortstop. “If I'm allowed to, and it makes the Canadian team better, I don't see why it would be a problem,” Martin said.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or 412-320-7811.

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