ORLANDO, Fla. – Russell Martin(notes) turned away from the Los Angeles Dodgers because they insisted on cutting his guaranteed salary from the $5.05 million he was paid in 2010. The Dodgers’ final offer was a guaranteed $4.2 million with incentives worth from $1.5 million to $1.7 million if he played in 125 games, a source said. Martin wanted a guaranteed $5.5 million, a raise of nearly 10 percent.
The decision to non-tender the team’s starting catcher of the past five seasons was gut-wrenching for general manager Ned Colletti, even though others in the front office had fewer qualms about letting Martin go because of his declining production and recent hip surgery.
“Ned said it was the most difficult decision he’s made as a GM, and you could tell he was sincere about that,” one source said.
Martin, 27, is recovering from a broken right hip and isn’t able to run yet, let alone begin baseball activities. Nevertheless, the Dodgers kept their offer on the table beyond the non-tender deadline and the signing of free-agent catcher Rod Barajas(notes), suggesting that Martin could return in a super-utility role.
Although the idea intrigued Martin, he declined and is on the free-agent market. The New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and Colorado Rockies have studied his medical records, but a source said it is doubtful he will get the money the Dodgers offered because it is unclear whether he can still be an everyday catcher. None of the teams he has been linked to are in the market for a full-time catcher.
Martin’s steep decline in offensive production is what prompted the Dodgers to non-tender him. In 2007, his first full season, he had 18 home runs, 21 stolen bases and an OPS of .843. He was an All-Star in 2007 and 2008, and it appeared as if he would be the rare catcher who could hit with power and run well. His flexibility behind the plate was another plus.
But Martin’s production began to wane during the second half of 2008 and plummeted each of the last two seasons. His OPS was .689 in 2010, his power and speed having dropped below average. The injury occurred while scoring on a sacrifice fly in early August.
Reasons for the decline are cloudy. He caught nearly 300 games during his two All-Star seasons, manager Joe Torre rarely giving him a day off. And Martin dropped a significant amount of weight before the 2009 season but gained some of it back before 2010.
“It’s a shame because the organization was totally invested in Russell Martin,” a source said. “He was a cornerstone of the franchise, then seemingly overnight he wasn’t. It’s still a shock he’s gone.”
Also at the winter meetings …
• Carl Crawford’s(notes) name has been strangely off the radar. He’s going to sign the most lucrative contract of any free agent, yet nobody is talking about him. Rangers president Nolan Ryan downplayed his team’s interest Tuesday and a day earlier manager Ron Washington stated that Josh Hamilton(notes) would begin spring training as the left fielder. That doesn’t leave a spot for Crawford, for whom left field is the only option.
That leaves the Angels, Red Sox and, of course, the Yankees, none of whom is in a hurry. The Yankees are locked in on signing Cliff Lee(notes), and the Angels and Red Sox are content to wait until Lee makes a decision. If the left-handed starter signs with New York, Crawford’s price could drop. His agent, Greg Genske, realizes that he doesn’t want the list of suitors to dip below two, because then Crawford might be scrambling to exceed Jayson Werth’s(notes) seven-year, $126 million deal.
• The Tampa Bay Rays can’t find a destination for shortstop Jason Bartlett(notes), who they’ve been trying to trade for relief pitching. They nearly had a deal with the Baltimore Orioles, who instead chose to send two relievers to the Arizona Diamondbacks for third baseman Mark Reynolds(notes). The Padres and Cardinals are having dialogue with the Rays, and the Pirates have kicked the tires on Bartlett, although they probably lack the bullpen arms the Rays are seeking.