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The Martin-to-McGuire bridge

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BRADENTON, Fla. – One of the coming challenges for the Pirates after the 2014 seasons is in how they replace Russell Martin. Martin told our Rob Biertempfel that he would listen to a contract offer if he was approached by the Pirates. But it seems unlikely Martin would not test the free agent market place. After all, with the Pirates the importance of pitch-framing has gone public and he’s essentially rebuilt his value to that of a fringe All-Star catcher.

Martin’s market rate?

Let’s call him a 3-win player, which is a 25 percent regression from what he did in 2013. That’s worth around $16 million a year on the free agent market.  He could get a 3-year, $45 million offer, I suspect. I also suspect that might put him out of the Pirates’ price range.

(Another idea: the Pirates might want to extend qualifying offers to Martin – and Francisco Liriano – and hope it either suppresses their values enough they return or the Pirates stockpile some  comp picks. But that’s looking ahead eight months.)

The most likely scenario seems to be that Martin will be departing Pittsburgh after this season and the Pirates’ will lose an incredibly valuable player. We know about the pitch-framing, the arm, the ability to call games and work with a staff … and the bat is also league-average for a catcher.

The good news is the Pirates have one of the best catching prospects in the minor leagues in Reese McGuire. He might rival Austin Hedges as the best defender in the minors and I like the bat better. McGuire’s upside is an All-Star, cost-controlled catcher, which is a prized possession.

The bad news is McGuire’s major league ETA is probably June, 2017. Catchers typically come more slowly than other position players as there’s so much on their plate on the defensive side. He’s headed for assignment at Low-A West Virginia this season.

So there is a need for at least a two-year bridge between Martin and McGuire.

Tony Sanchez showed last season between Triple-A and the majors he has enough bat for the position, easing concerns about one question of his game, but questions have emerged about his overall defensive package, which is surprising because he was billed as a plus defensive catcher out of Boston College. The Pirates acquired Chris Stewart in a small deal with the Yankees this offseason. Stewart is a great pitch-framer and an ideal No. 2 catcher. But he’s probably an offensive drain if pressed into a No. 1 role. Moreover, there’s not going to be another undervalued player like Martin on the free agent because pitch-framing is now understood throughout the industry.

What the Pirates would really like to  see is have Sanchez put to rest any throwing issues this year early in Triple-A and have him take the everyday role at least 2015 and 2016. This is something to watch this spring. Sanchez has been upbeat in the clubhouse, he’s one of the more personable players on the team, but he has to be disappointed going back to Triple-A. Who wouldn’t be? How he handles the expected assignment is key. The Pirates don’t believe the book is written on Sanchez but they also did not demonstrate overwhelming confidence in acquiring Stewart.

As we  see in the National League Central with Marin, Yadier Molina and Jonathan Lucroy, elite two-way catchers are incredibly valuable commodities. The Pirates might have another such player in McGuire but they might need a bridge to get there or else life becomes more difficult in the not-to-distant future.

IN OTHER NEWS …

The Cardinals and Matt Carpenter are closing in on a six-year, $50-55 million deal according to Ken Rosenthal. That’s bad news for the rest of the Central division.

– TS

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