I wanted to expand on something I wrote about earlier and that is that I do not believe the Cubs will sign Russell Martin. It is not that they don’t like him or can’t afford to sign him –I think they do and they can — but in the end it comes down to a question of value, particularly measurable value.
Granted, there is a value to Martin beyond his measurable production. But how much tangible money do you pay for intangible assets?
That is hard to answer, so let us start with an easier question: How much are you willing to pay for his tangible production? Martin had a big season in which he hit .290 and posted a .402 OBP. The latter figure is a huge potential upgrade for the Cubs. But is that who he is? Did he suddenly get that much better in his age 31 season, a season after which catchers typically begin to decline?
In the previous 3 seasons, Martin posted OBPs of .324, .311, and .327 — solid for a catcher but it is hardly enough to be a solution for the Cubs OBP problems. Martin will still walk, but he won’t hit .290. In fact, he is projected to hit .240 next season, 50 points lower, to go with a .341 OBP and a .328 wOBA. The latter two are solid average numbers, but do they present a significant upgrade over what they have now?
There would be an upgrade in pitch framing, but most catchers in baseball would be an upgrade over Castillo — and most of the available ones shouldn’t cost anywhere near what Martin would.
Here is what Keith Law had to say about Martin,
He is a solid defensive catcher, an above-average framer who gets high marks for his work with Pirates pitchers over the past two years. However, Martin is a catcher in his early 30s and already somewhat injury-prone, reaching 130 games just once since leaving L.A. The market is likely to treat him as a difference-maker, with the Pirates’ qualifying offer likely to lose out to three- or four-year deals from bigger-payroll clubs. I think he is far more likely to be a solid regular, hitting .240/.330/.390 or so with above-average defense but playing only 110 to 120 games a season.
Purely on production, is he worth 4/60 or even 5/75?
Before you answer that, let’s expand the picture. None of these deals are made in a vacuum, there are other factors to consider.
How much are you gaining in an upgrade over an in prime catcher in Welington Castillo, who has produced roughly at the level of a league average catcher? Then you have to consider giving up the 2nd round pick and the pool money, something the Cubs used to get additional prospects such as Carson Sands. Lastly, you also have to consider the loss of payroll flexibility. Sure the Cubs have the money to spend, but could the Cubs have used that extra $15M to upgrade elsewhere, such as pitching?
I think it is more complicated than finding a perceived weak spot in your lineup and finding a better player at any cost. Assuming all teams would value Martin’s intangibles equally, the equation goes something like this:
Martin upgrade = Martin’s production – Castillo’s production – the high difference in salary (and a loss of payroll flexibility that could have been used elsewhere) – Jake Stinnett (2nd round pick) – Carson Sands (overslot) + whatever you can salvage for Castillo in a trade when you have forfeited all leverage.
The biggest variable in that equation is Martin’s salary and if it gets to be a bidding war, as I expect, then at some point it will tip the scales toward not signing him — and I expect that tip to occur well before 5/75 and probably even well before 4/60.
The Dodgers are the most obvious landing spot, but their calculations are different. They are only subtracting AJ Ellis’ value, which was below replacement level in his age 33 season, worth almost 3 fewer wins than the 27 year old Castillo last season. 3 wins above replacement is worth approximately $15M on the market per season. That gives them the leeway to add more on the salary portion than the Cubs because they are gaining a much higher net upgrade. They are getting more for their money.
If the Dodgers decide they want Martin, and by all indications they do, then he represents a better value to them than the Cubs relative to their respective current catching situations. They can pay significantly more money to Martin than the Cubs and this would still hold true. It is not really even about the Dodgers big money, it just simply makes more sense for them to give Martin more money than the Cubs, regardless of whether the Cubs are financially capable of matching. The only question is whether the Cubs should match.
As far as I’m concerned, I just don’t see a scenario where it adds up for the Cubs to match the expected Dodgers bid. The Cubs would be paying the same or more and getting less in return when you consider the deal in terms of a net upgrade. Even if the Cubs do match, the Dodgers have the ability to go higher and still get better net value.
Then consider this: Could all that money that would go to Martin be better off upgrading a different area of the ballclub? Could they get a bigger net upgrade somewhere else, such as pitching or OBP at the top of the order?
So, then… what of Buster Olney and Jon Heyman saying they expect that Martin will sign with the Cubs? Some of it is speculation. Some of it is probably based on conversations with agents. Martin wants to make his money this offseason and while the Dodgers can provide a big pay day, they won’t do it unless they need to. Martin needs someone to drive up his price, otherwise the Dodgers are bidding against the small market Pirates and the mid-market Blue Jays. Getting the Cubs involved works to Martin’s advantage in terms of raising the stakes.
I don’t know about you but I am not expecting the Cubs to play along this time.
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