Bob Smizik: Can the Pirates keep Martin?

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The Pittsburgh future of Russell Martin was part of the discussion on the Bob Pompeani Show on The Fan Saturday morning. Callers were wondering what it would take to keep Martin, who will be a free agent after the season, with the Pirates beyond 2014.

There were suggestions of one-, two- and three-year contracts. While I was listening, everyone was suggesting what the Pirates should offer. The question really is this: What will Martin accept?

Some might consider the entire discussion a moot point because Tony Sanchez is penciled in as the Pirates’ catcher for 2015 and, hopefully, beyond. That may well be, but in his time with the Pirates this season Sanchez, who was returned to the minors last week when Martin came off the DL, was less than impressive when wearing a catcher’s mitt.

He has serious throwing issues. He is, at best, an average receiver.

Sanchez had five errors in 164 innings. Martin and Chris Stewart have two (both by Stewart) in 279 innings. Martin has thrown out 28 percent of the runners who have tried to steal. Stewart has thrown out 27 percent and Sanchez 14 percent.

In discussing Sanchez before his demotion, manager Clint Hurdle seemed to be damning him with faint praise. "There's no doubt in my mind Tony's got great experience while he's been here. He's been able to add and develop, and when that time comes he'll get to go down and continue to hone his skills and we'll see what happens from there. He's done a very admirable, professional job while he's been here."

None of this means Sanchez won’t be given the job next year. After all, the plan is the plan is the plan. But given a choice between Martin, who will be 32 next season, and Sanchez, who turned 26 last week, maybe the plan could be temporarily set aside.

Martin averaged $8.5 million a season in his two years with the Pirates. He’s done nothing to drive that price down. His value has risen based both on his play and the inflation that is heavily impacting MLB contracts. Martin probably would be looking for a three-year contract. At his age, that’s not unreasonable. He might be amenable to a two-year deal. One year is out of the question.

The Pirates have the following contracts coming off the books next season: Francisco Liriano $8 million, Wandy Rodriguez $7.5 million, Jason Grilli $4 million, Clint Barmes $2 million, Travis Snider $1.2 million.

These contractual raises will be added to the payroll: Charlie Morton $4 million, Andrew McCutchen $2.75 million, Jose Tabata $1 million.

These are the guesstimates for arbitration increases: Neil Walker $3.25 million, Pedro Alvarez $3 million, Ike Davis and Mark Melancon $2 million, Tony Watson $2.25 million, Gaby Sanchez $1.5 million, Josh Harrison $1.2 million, Stewart $0.5 million.

If you do the math, and the guesses are not too far off, the additional money is not that much more than the money coming off the books.

Then there’s this: The 2014 additional national television money and the 2015 additional national television money. The Pirates' gross on that money for two years is about $50 million. MLB is said to have taken a large chunk out of the first-year money. But, at worse, the Pirates should have something like an additional $35 million from that pot.

Is that enough for the Pirates to make staying in Pittsburgh a favorable proposition for Martin?

Probably not. But the team should make the effort with a preemptive offer before Martin hits free agency after the World Series. Perhaps a two-year deal -- $20 million -- with a third-year option based on games played or at bats would work for Martin.

If any franchise has witnessed first hand the value of a strong defensive catcher, it is the Pirates.

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