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Stats Corner: What price will Pirates pay to keep Martin?

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By David Golebiewski
Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, 7:48 p.m.

Russell Martin's two-year, $17 million contract is the largest free agent deal in Pirates history — and the best bargain of general manager Neal Huntington's career.

Martin has been the fifth-best catcher in the game since 2013 as measured by wins above replacement (WAR), a comprehensive gauge of a player's offensive, defensive and baserunning skill. He has provided the Pirates with about $38 million in value — more than double his actual salary.

The Pirates surely will need to give Martin a raise if they want to keep the impending free agent. But what sort of performance should they expect from Martin at age 32 and beyond, and how much should they be willing to pay?

Martin could command a four-year deal this winter given his sterling defensive play and career-best .416 on-base percentage in 2014. He figures to be worth about 8.6 WAR during the 2015-17 seasons, according to the Oliver projection system on Fangraphs. One WAR is the equivalent of about $5.5 million on the free agent market, and salary inflation boosts MLB paychecks by about 5 percent per season.

To extend their best catcher since at least Jason Kendall, the Pirates could end up breaking Kendall's franchise-record $60 million guaranteed contract signed in 2000 (though Andrew McCutchen's contract includes no-brainer club options that will push Pittsburgh's commitment higher). If Huntington can keep Martin for the rumored price of four years and $40 million, it would be another bargain.

Martin's projected WAR

Year WAR Cost

2015 3.2 $18.5M

2016 2.9 $17.6M

2017 2.5 $15.9M

2018 2.2 $14.7M

Total 8.6 $66.7M

If Martin moves on and former first-rounder Tony Sanchez takes over, the Pirates would save cash but take a hit in the field. Sanchez projects to be worth 1.6 WAR in 2015 — half as valuable as Martin.

David Golebiewski is a freelance writer.

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