The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE
With Russell Martin heading to Pittsburgh to hang out with A.J. Burnett, what are the Yankees supposed to do now?
I really didn't think that Russell Martin wouldn't be a Yankee in 2013. Sure, there was always a chance that would happen with him hitting free agency, but the front office had always held him in such high regard that coupled with Martin's less-than-impressive offensive year, I really didn't believe they wouldn't work out a deal with him that they could live with that would keep his highly praised defense in the Bronx for the immediate future.
The pending agreement between Martin and the Pittsburgh Pirates seems to be for two years and $17 million dollars, an amount I would have thought the Yankees would have matched easily. Beat writer Erik Boland, though, says that no offer was even made, a claim that Buster Olney backs up. Russell Martin told David Waldstein of the New York Times that the Yankees told him they didn't have the money to match the Pirates' offer. Strange for a player that was drawing comparisons to Thurman Munson in the recent past. Either way, Martin's offensive hibernations are someone else's problem now, and the Yankees must find a way to replace him without many attractive options.
The free agent pool is terrible. Every option is on the wrong side of 30 and the nicer options like Mike Napoli or A.J. Pierzynski are not without major issues. Napoli would represent an upgrade over Martin offensively, but a downgrade in his defense. He could take over Nick Swisher's former role as backup first baseman, but the Yankees would likely need someone better than their in-house options to pick up the slack on games he wouldn't be able to spend behind the plate. Pierzynski is even older than Napoli and coming off a career season at age 35. If the Yankees were unwilling to match a two-year, $17 million dollar deal for someone like Martin, it's highly unlikely they'd be willing to shell out the cash for either Napoli or Pierzynski. It isn't surprising that the team isn't expected to pursue either player.
Austin Romine, Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli, and Eli Whiteside might be passable defensively, but even collectively, their bats would be nothing you'd want to see in a starting role. Romine may have represented the best option of the three, but after missing nearly the entire 2012 season with a back problem, his spot to at least begin the season should be in AAA, where he has only managed to play in a handful of games so far. Unfortunately, that may not be a luxury the Yankees have now that Martin has signed elsewhere. Everyone is in love with Cervelli's RISP numbers in a small sample size, but his results in AAA last year were nothing to prove he was ready to be a starter in the majors, he wouldn't really be a team's first choice for starting catcher, particularly due to his insistence on throwing balls into centerfield. Stewart or Whiteside as the main starter is the stuff of nightmares. Seriously.
Fortunately, the Winter Meetings are fast approaching, and it's possible that Ninja-Cashman will be able to pull off a trade that will no one will have suspected. The GM has quite a bit of work to do already in finding a right fielder to replace Nick Swisher, which may make for some interesting hot stove rumors over the days to come. The Yankees probably only have the prospects to bring in a true upgrade at one position or the other, and either one would likely mean saying goodbye to Mason Williams, Tyler Austin, or Gary Sanchez unless Cashman goes the less flashy route.
Every option certainly has a considerable downside, but the Yankees will have to weigh their options to figure out which negative they are most comfortable living with. Who is your choice target for backstop in 2013?