On Russell Martin, Rod Barajas, and the Catching Situation

So I stayed up late last night to see how the Russell Martin situation would play out, and as we all know he ended up getting non-tendered. I made my feelings on that choice clear yesterday; basically, since he’s not even running yet it’s hard to bash the team for not wanting to commit ~$6m to him.

But that was hardly the end of it, because three interesting pieces of news came down later in the night, and all pertained to who we might see donning the catching gear next year.

1) The Dodgers and Yankees almost came together to trade Martin to New York for Francisco Cervelli. This is from Michael Schmidt of the New York Times (via River Ave Blues) who suggests that it got quite far along, but that it fell apart before completion. We don’t know which side backed out, but this isn’t a deal you should be upset about missing out on. On the surface, sure, Cervelli will be just 25 next season, and had a decent OBP this year, but the RAB guys don’t rag on him for no reason. He has zero power, his 2010 stats were skewed by a great small sample size start (1.012 OPS on May 14; .616 over the rest of the year), and Beyond the Box Score ranked him as the next-to-worst defensive catcher in baseball. Acquiring Cervelli is certainly not worth extinguishing the chance you still have to retain Martin now that he’s a free agent.

2) Rod Barajas has officially re-signed, per the Los Angeles Times. I alluded to this last night when I first heard it, and suggested that I don’t mind him as a backup catcher, because he can at least provide power and he’s not awful behind the plate, but his terrible OBP would be a disaster if he was the everyday starter. I don’t think it’s set in stone yet, but these comments from Ned Colletti just before Barajas was signed don’t fill me with hope:

“I think we are on the cusp of getting something done in a different direction,” Colletti said. “I wasn’t going to go to sleep tonight without a big league catcher here besides [backup] A.J. [Ellis]. We’re pretty far down the road with something, and it should come to fruition in a short period of time. This is somebody who, if the season were to start today, would take the lion’s share of [playing time], with A.J. in a backup role.”

One of the more difficult obstacles we’ve had to face this offseason is convincing people that Barajas just isn’t very good – that one hot week as a Dodger doesn’t overcome more than a decade of sustained mediocrity. The .284 OBP he put up last year exactly matches his career mark, and on a team which just signed Juan Uribe (.300 career OBP) and has Casey Blake, James Loney, and Matt Kemp all coming off years with OBP below .330, that’s going to be a serious issue as far as run-scoring goes.

3) Martin could still be back, but not neccessarily as an every-day catcher. From Tony Jackson’s story, Colletti dropped this bomb:

Colletti said that even with a primary catcher in the fold, he intends to continue discussions with Matt Colleran, the agent for Martin.

“Matt and I have talked, and Russell and I talked about it a month or so ago when he was in town to get checked out, about being more versatile and playing other positions,” Colletti said. “We do think that with his athleticism, if he returns, he can do more than just catch.”

Martin originally was drafted as a third baseman, but Colletti also said left field was “something you would have to think about” for Martin.

This bit of news dismayed me more than anything else, because I’ve been hearing fans suggest that Martin should play 2B or 3B for months, and I’ve come really close to writing a post about why that’s silly several times. His mediocre offensive output is acceptable only because he’s a catcher; I don’t even have to bust out the stats to confirm that he’d be one of the weakest-hitting players in the league at almost any other position. “But if he catches less, he’ll be less worn-down and his offense will come back!”, people claim. Will it, though? He’d have to basically return to his peak 2007 level for him to be valuable in other positions, and it’s pretty unfair to expect that a guy coming off a serious injury and who would have to learn other positions is going to do that.

Now I suppose this is a little different, in that he wouldn’t be an every-day player elsewhere and would be a utility guy who would still do some catching, so that could be interesting. I’m just not sure I see the point; you can get guys who aren’t coming off major injuries, aren’t coming off back-to-back terrible seasons, and won’t be making a major positional change for a lot less than Martin’s going to want. SI’s Jon Heyman is reporting that Martin’s already received calls from six other teams.

Look, I get non-tendering Martin because of the uncertainty around his injury. I really do. You just can’t go into a season with Rod Barajas and A.J. Ellis as your primary catchers. You just can’t, so there better be some sort of other plan in place here. (And before anyone points out that I did just that in my 2011 plan, note that my hypothetical team had also picked up Adam Dunn, among others.)