The Pittsburgh Pirates dipped into the shallow pool of free agent catchers and found one they feel should help upgrade their lineup and also make them better defensively.
Pittsburgh agreed to terms with Russell Martin on a two-year, $17 million contract on Nov. 29. The Pirates made Martin their primary target as soon as teams could begin negotiating with free agents in early November.
Martin, 29, hit a career-low .211 last season for the New York Yankees but also had a career-best 21 home runs to go with 53 RBI in 133 games. That is an improvement over Rod Barajas, who did not have the club option in his contract for 2013 exercised by the Pirates after hitting .206 with 11 homers and 31 RBI in 104 games.
In a surprise move, the low-budget Pirates outbid the large-market Yankees for Martin. The Yankees, according to a major league source, offered two years and $14 million.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle actively recruited Martin. The two developed a relationship at the 2008 All-Star Game when Hurdle, then with the Colorado Rockies, was the National League manager, and Martin, then with the Los Angeles Dodgers, was on the NL squad for the game at Yankee Stadium.
Martin will certainly be an upgrade over Barajas behind the plate.
Martin threw out 24 percent of runners attempting to steal last season, nailing 20 of 83, while Barajas threw out a measly 6 percent, 6 of 99. The major league average was 27 percent.
Martin, a three-time All-Star, won the National League Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards for catchers in 2007 while playing for the Dodgers. In seven major league seasons with the Dodgers (2006-10) and Yankees (2011-12), he has hit .260 with 93 home runs and a .352 on-base percentage in 925 games.