Dodgers: Taking a Look Back at Russell Martin’s Last Game in LA
The Major League catching market is complicated.
Let’s imagine a road trip. You’re driving on a highway with nothing but nature on both sides of you. You look down at your dashboard and notice that your car needs gas, and needs it now. Approaching in the distance, amidst this sea of absolute nothing, is a gas station. Only one, and not another for miles and miles to come. The gas station sits there, alone, and you, the driver of this car running quickly towards empty, are left with no choice but to pull into the station and fill the car up.
Gas here was expensive, unfair even. The price to purchase ten gallons of liquid that your small car so desperately needed to survive, put a dent in your wallet. But why is that? Why could this gas station charge prices that you, and your now depleted pocket, would call criminal?
The answer is simple. They were alone in the middle of nowhere. They knew that drivers and cars as desperate as you and yours would eventually be left without a choice and they would have to pay their outrageous fees to top off your tanks.
The catcher market in major league baseball has the opportunity to be that gas station. Filled with players performing well under the league average standards of offense and sprinkled on top are catchers who perform well with a bat in their hands. The offensive performers are the gas stations in the middle of nowhere and their teams have the ability to charge whatever prices they see fit.
Insert Russell Martin. A 35-year old catcher soon to be 36 with a bat hitting below the Mendoza line and an OPS+ well below 100 not just in 2018 but in the two seasons prior. Russell Martin falls under the majority category of major league backstops. His bat is woeful and his defense is outstanding.
Getting Martin was not the Dodgers settling for less. Martin making his return to Los Angeles was merely the Dodgers playing the catcher market the way they needed to.
JT Realmuto would have cost the Dodgers an astronomical price in prospects all while preventing both Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith from having every day catching jobs for the next three seasons. The Marlins are the perfect example of our ‘gas station’ team.
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Miami is home to a catcher that finds himself in the top 4.5 percent of all major league catchers in offense. Sure, his defense is weak and his ability to field his position is not what the Dodgers are looking for but, other than Yasmani Grandal, there is no catcher like Realmuto in baseball in terms of offensive output.
The result? The Marlins are asking teams like the Dodgers for players such as Cody Bellinger and top prospects on top of him. The Braves were similarly asked for Ozzie Albies and prospects on the side and all of this follows the trends. The Marlins are a deserted island of a gas station and cars have no choice but to fill up there if they want an All-Star catcher. Miami’s price can be as high or as low as they want it to be.
Let’s take this one step further. Pirates’ catcher, Francisco Cervelli was good on offense in 2018. Good and not a single adjective better than that. The 32-year old caught just 94 games and his defense was, by most standards, below average. Cervelli hit .259 with 12 home runs last season and his OPS+ was 123.
This should not cost a team too much in a trade. Cervelli does not have the legs to be a 100 game catcher and his offense is pretty good. 79 percent of major league catchers had an OPS+ below 100 and Cervelli beat it. That accomplishment allowed the Pirates to turn down a deal that would have sent Ross Stripling, a 2018 All-Star, to Pittsburgh for a player with one year left on his deal.
Back to Martin. The Blue Jays had no leverage to ask for a king’s ransom despite the depleted catching market. Martin falls under the umbrella that casts its shadow over 79 percent of catchers- he can’t hit. And when the Dodgers rang the Blue Jays and asked to acquire the 35-year old former Dodger, the bar was set as low as it should have been.
The Jays are paying $16.4 million of Martin’s $20 million left on the deal and the Dodgers traded two prospects that, in the long haul, won’t make a dent on the system in their departures.
The Dodgers played the market so they could have a veteran, defensive-minded catcher behind the dish all while giving Austin Barnes an opportunity to redeem himself after a horrific 2018 campaign.
The Dodgers were on their catching road trip when they traded for Russell Martin. Instead of driving on the desolate road with one gas station they chose to drive in the city with stations at every corner. The price was low and it was right. Russell Martin is the solution to the Dodgers 2019 catching problem.