The New York Yankees didn’t get much offensive production out of the catcher position. Overall, their catchers produced a woeful .213/.287/.298 line and a 61 wRC+ that was 26th in the MLB. Their .085 ISO and 8 home runs were dead last. Veteran Chris Stewart nearly doubled his previous career high in plate appearances. Perhaps as a consequence, his second half numbers were awful. His batting line was .169/.262/.226, good for a 37 wRC+.
This problem could have been avoided by simply re-signing Russell Martin. Instead, the Yankees let him get away. The Pittsburgh Pirates snapped him up for the affordable price of two years, 17 million. Meanwhile, the Yankees used the savings from letting Martin walk to pay for Vernon Wells. Wells posted a .233/.282/.349 with a 70 wRC+ and -0.8 WAR.
In his two years with the Yankees, Martin had a .224/.317/.405 line with a 97 wRC+, decent numbers for a catcher. This was despite an in-play batting average of .238, nearly 50 points below his career mark. Furthermore, his strong throwing arm and good receiving skills provided the Yankees with good defense.
Martin went on to one of the best years of his career in 2013 for the Pirates. Despite tailing off some in the second half, he put together a .226/.327/.377 line with a 101 wRC+. While that’s solid for a catcher, Martin’s biggest contributions came from behind the dish.
He gunned down 36 would-be base-stealers for career-best 40%, which was 4th best in the NL. Meanwhile, his backups threw out just 7 baserunners, or 14%. Throw in his excellent work blocking pitches, and Martin had the best defensive season for a catcher since 2002.
Oh, and I didn’t even mention the value of his pitch-framing ability. StatCorner ranks him as the 6th best catcher in that category. It’s no fluke either, Martin was in the top five in the previous two years. Translating pitch-framing into runs is a work in progress, but StatCorner credits him with 18 runs saved.
Add in his defensive contributions, and you get a 6 WAR season, which would make Martin a borderline MVP candidate. And all at the affordable tag of 8.5 million, just a shade more than the Yankees paid Wells.
Trying to avoid the luxury tax is nice and all, letting Rusell Martin get away is not the way to do it. With a roster full of overpaid former stars, the Yankees passed up on re-signing an excellent player at bargain price.
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