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The Pros And Cons Of Russell Martin

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When it comes to Russell Martin, I'm torn.

Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The reports that the Cubs are pursuing Russell Martin next season have left me debating myself over whether or not this is a good idea. So I decided to logically lay out the pros and cons of signing Martin. I'll let you in on what I'm thinking and then you can point out to me in the comments where my logic has failed me. (That's always fun.)

Pro: Martin had a really good year at the plate last season. His triple slash numbers were .290/.402/.430 and his .832 OPS trailed only Devin Mesoraco, Buster Posey and Jonathan Lucroy among catchers with 400 or more plate appearances last season. That high OBP is exactly what the Cubs need out of a catcher. He's someone who can be on first base for when all the sluggers come to the plate.

Con: Those numbers are a stone-cold fluke, driven by a completely unsustainable .336 batting average on balls in play, which is 47 points above his career average. There was no appreciable reason for the change. Martin's line drive rate and ground ball/fly ball ratio were roughly steady from where they had always been.

Last season was the first year Martin's batting average was above .250 since 2008. The two years before last season, his batting averages were .211 and .226. Those might have been a little unlucky, but not only is he not a .290 hitter, he's probably not even a .250 hitter.

Pro: Even if Martin hits .240, he can still contribute on offense because he walks a fair amount. His career OBP is .354 and while he can't be expected to match that, the Cubs could expect an OBP of at least around .330, which for a catcher isn't bad, especially if baseball really is heading into a third deadball era.

Con: The Cubs' current catcher, Welington Castillo, has a very good chance of outhitting Martin next season and in the years to come. Martin would likely have the better OBP, but Castillo should have more power, even if Castillo did only out-homer Martin 13 to 11 last season.

Pro: Even if Martin is just an average hitter, he's been an outstanding defensive catcher throughout his career. And while it's difficult to quantify this, Martin has a reputation of being a great handler of a pitching staff. And while Castillo has improved in that area since he first came up, he still has a ways to go, from all accounts.

Con: Martin has thrown out 32% of baserunners trying to steal throughout the course of his career. Castillo has thrown out 31%. Martin has been a little better over the past two seasons, but that might just be a small sample size. The evidence is that Martin doesn't shut down the running game any better than the incumbent catcher does.

Pro: The hottest topic in catching statistics is pitch-framing, and Martin is very good at it. While maybe not as good as Lucroy, Posey or a Molina brother, he has consistently ranked among the top ten catchers in the game over the past few seasons at pitch framing. Castillo, on the other hand, is pretty terrible at it. Only Jarrod Saltalamacchia ranked worse at pitch framing last year than Castillo did. Perhaps this is something Castillo could get better at, but right now a Cubs pitching staff with Martin behind the plate could expect to get two or three more strikes a game than one with Castillo. That might not sound like much, but it all depends on when in the game those balls get called strikes. Might mean nothing or it might be the difference between winning and losing the game.

Con: Martin is going to want at least a four-year contract and some team might be tempted to go five years. He's going to command somewhere between $12 and $14 million a year, most likely. Maybe more.

Pro: The Cubs can afford it.

Con: Yeah, but is that the best use of their resources? Plus, Martin turns 32 in February and the track record of catchers after they turn 32 is not good. Sometime they go bad quickly. It's a physically demanding position and it gets harder and harder to do as one gets older. And if Martin can't physically catch anymore, the Cubs don't have another position for him to move to. Nor is he really likely to hit enough to play left field or first base anyway.

Pro: Yeah, but catchers are lasting longer than they used to. No longer is the catching fraternity some sort of Logan's Run dystopia where everyone older than 32 is discarded. Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez and Jorge Posada are examples of catchers who were still productive after 35. However, you can still find more catchers who retire by 35 than ones who are still starting.

Con: The Cubs have a catcher coming up through the system in Kyle Schwarber and he looks like he's going to have a special bat. There's a good chance that Schwarber's bat will be major-league ready by sometime next season, even if learning to catch might keep him down in the minors for a while longer. But it would be a major failure if Schwarber wasn't up in the majors before 2018, which would be the fourth year of a Russell Martin contract.

Pro: Good. The faster the Cubs give up on the idea of Schwarber being a catcher the better. (That's a little glib. The Cubs should at least try to make Schwarber a catcher. But they're unlikely to succeed. I also find it hard to believe that if the Cubs are in contention for a wild card spot next season,  that they wouldn't call up Schwarber to play left field if that was necessary. I don't think they'd plug him in at catcher next season under any circumstances.)

Con: Did I mention that giving a four or five year contract to a 32-year-old catcher is insane? Did I mention it enough? On top of that, signing Martin would cost the Cubs a draft pick and the bonus pool money that goes with it. A second-round pick, to be sure, but those are not without value.

Pro: I'm generally pretty skeptical of the idea of a "clubhouse leader" providing tangible benefits in the W-L column, but Martin has a reputation for being that kind of leader and even I admit that it might be nice to have a veteran player in the clubhouse to make sure all of these young kids stay focused and out of trouble.

Con: What part of "giving a long-term deal to a 32-year-old catcher is insane" do you not understand?

As you can see, I'm torn. I'm fully in the camp that the Cubs should shoot for the playoffs next season without mortgaging the future. I do believe that with an expected progression of the young players on the team the Cubs are at least a .500 team next season. With a couple of additions, they could be in the 86 to 90 win range which would give them a shot at the playoffs. (The Giants and Pirates both won 88 games last year.) But is Martin that 4 to 5 win player that could move the Cubs into a playoff spot? No way. But could he be a 2 to 3 win player? Yeah. But there's at least a solid chance that he won't even be that good. And a contract that would take him into his 36- or 37-year-old season end up as an albatross. But it appears that's a chance that the executives of several teams are willing to take, including Theo Epstein.