As we wait for the off season to really take off, we'll touch briefly on a hot weekend topic.
This Denver Post link on Russell Martin Drew brought us yesterday continues to fuel some intriguing speculation. It's worth getting into again because even though the Rockies are unlikely to land this fish, he represents a major offseason piece that will impact the way the winter plays out in several cities.
Last month, Eric Garcia McKinley laid out a long and detailed case for why the Rockies should target Martin this offseason. I don't disagree with most of the analysis here, the problem is that many of the reasons he cites are also going to be reasons Martin attracts attention from clubs with bigger checkbooks.
Jon Heyman wrote about Martin on Friday as well (we got this covered from all angles), and notes the Pirates made two unsuccessful attempts to sign him to an extension; one in spring training, and another during the season. Unfortunately for them, Martin is a guy fully aware of his situation and probably sees this as his last best chance to score a major haul. He'll be entering his age 32 season in 2015, has by far the best numbers of any catcher on the market coming off his career year, and there are several teams with money likely ready to open their wallets for him.
In addition to the obvious offensive success he had in 2014, there's two other reasons the Rockies should value Martin extremely highly. First, his walk rate has never dipped below 10.5 percent in any of his last eight seasons, not only indicating that he'll probably age well as a hitter, but also that he'll probably be able to take whatever success he does have away from Coors Field as walk rate is the statistic that tends to stay pretty consistent home and away with this club. Despite the strong overall offense in 2014, the Rockies ranked dead last in the National League in walk rate at just 6.4 percent with only Troy Tulowitzki (13.3 percent) and Michael McKenry (11.5 percent) earning a free pass at least eight percent of the time (minimum 100 plate appearances).
The other reason the Rockies probably love this guy should be more apparent, and could also be the reason he eventually exceeds their budget: defense. If the Rockies want to improve their pitching staff and can't afford to rebuild it externally, one of the easiest ways form them to get better here is to bring in a guy who knows what he's doing behind the plate. While some are dubious about things like catcher ERA and other stats that give considerable credit for a good pitching staff to the catcher, it's easy to see how this could help the Rockies. Going from one of the worst guys in the league (maybe THE worst receiving consistent playing time in Wilin Rosario) to one of the best defensively is definitely worth something. How much? That's a very serious question the Rockies are going to have to ask themselves right now.
Obviously the Rockies can't ignore the pitching staff after what happened this season, but there is something to be gained here by bringing in a backstop who can help the young arms. It's not the most direct approach, but as legendary golfer Ben Hogan once said, the best way to improve your putting is to start hitting your irons closer.
Still, even if the Rockies do decide Martins's their guy, there are two massive obstacles between them and a deal. There's the fact Miguel Montero received a five-year, $60 million deal two offseasons ago, and that Brian McCann received a five-year, $85 million contract last winter. Those signings mean Martin is probably looking somewhere in that ballpark for a deal. Then there's also the fact that several teams with money from Boston to Chicago, to Dallas, to Los Angeles have varying degrees of interest in this player. What makes matters even more complicated for the Rockies is the Rangers, Cubs, and Red Sox all have protected first round picks, meaning that the qualifying offer the Pirates will slap on Martin will do little to deter these clubs from making a move if they feel the itch to sign this guy.
If the Rockies do break the bank and go after him, my biggest stipulation will be in the length of the deal. I wouldn't hate the strategy of using a good chunk of the 2015 money to bring in a presence that can help all the young arms and stabilize the road offense, especially since there doesn't seem to be many obvious second-tier starting pitching candidates out there for the Rockies to lock in on. What I would despise, however, is an expensive deal that stretches far enough into the future that it potentially strangles the payroll while the Rockies are in what looks to be a pretty nice contention window in the second half of the decade.
Martin is an interesting player to discuss, and it looks like the Rockies have a tough decision on their hands, but ultimately I think the decision will be made for them when one of the monsters in the neighborhood swoops in and prices Colorado right out of this race.
Non-Russell Martin links
Jough Brasch over at Rockies Zingers reviews much of Troy Tulowitzki's early career in honor of his 30th birthday on Friday and concludes that we should embrace and build around him. I'll endorse that idea.
Meanwhile, Mark Knudsen over at the Coloradan doesn't believe the Rockies made enough changes at the top last week and predicts the club will face the same old issues with Jeff Bridich as their general manager.
A division rival has a new manager as the D-backs hired Chip Hale, passing on former Rockies manager Jim Tracy.
Finally, there's a fascinating article over at the Hardball Times today by Jon Roegele, who gives another potential reason for the declining offense in baseball: the consistently expanding strike zone (particularly in the lower half).
It's a good thing the Cardinals finally figured out how to hit the ball over the wall this postseason after ranking last in that category in the NL during the regular season, because their current opponent seems to be snorting the leprechaun juice again. So far this postseason, Giants' opponents have a BABIP of .188 in 269 plate appearances. If you want to understand how lucky they're getting, consider the fact that over the last 50 years, over 13,000 players have had at least 250 plate appearances in a season, and exactly ONE of them posted a lower BABIP than the Giants' opponents have so far in this postseason.
In addition to this, the Cardinals' best player had to leave last night's game with a strained oblique and now his status for the rest of the series is in jeopardy. We already saw how important this was last night when his replacement, Tony Cruz (as well as Trevor Rosenthal), made a complete mess of the ninth inning and allowed Matt Duffy to score the tying run from second base on a wild pitch.