Russell Martin a top offseason target for Chicago Cubs


As we, and several other followers of the Chicago Cubs spoke about shortly after the 2014 regular season ended, opined, the team will target former Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin in the offseason. The 31-year-old backstop is coming off one of the best seasons of his big league career and, according to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, Chicago is expected to be in the mix for his services.

"The Cubs, expected to be a big player in the market with hopes of contending as they blend in their impressive stash of top positional prospects, surely appreciate Martin’s superb performance for the Pirates this past year, when he was one of the few players in baseball with a .400-plus on-base percentage, and also caught and threw with the best in the game behind the plate."

Martin is coming off a 2014 season in which he batted .290/.402/.430 – all of which are near career-bests, with 11 home runs and 67 RBIs. His work with the young Pittsburgh staff in recent years has been well-documented, likely only increasing his attractiveness to the Cubs, who currently have one of the youngest starting rotations – and teams – in all of Major League Baseball.

His work with the Pirates’ pitchers was so good in 2013, when Pittsburgh broke its streak of seasons without a postseason appearance, that he actually finished 24th in the NL MVP balloting, despite hitting just .226 in 127 games. He threw out 40 percent of would-be base stealers, a mark that he narrowly missed in 2014, as he caught 39 percent of runners.

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A career .259/.354/.399 hitter, Martin has emerged as one of the top catchers in the game, especially with his offensive breakout campaign this past year. Adding him to the fold would be an apparent upgrade over Welington Castillo, who took a step backwards offensively in 2014, and could help the team entice top-tier starting pitching to choose Chicago in free agency this winter.

"The Cubs are expected to target one of the top free-agent starting pitchers, with Jon Lester and Max Scherzer seeming to make more sense for them than James Shields due to their younger ages, and could also look to enhance other areas, possibly the bullpen."

Martin, who as Heyman points out, is a very good pitch framer and game-caller, will, in no way, be a slam dunk for Chicago. There are several other teams, including the Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto Blue Jays and even the Boston Red Sox, reportedly vying for his services this offseason. The former 17th-round pick of the Dodgers back in 2002 is said to be seeking a five-year deal, although MLB Trade Rumors recently penned a piece predicting he would land in the Windy City.

"A career-best .402 on-base percentage further bolsters his case, and he’s known as an excellent defender and handler of pitching staffs.  The Pirates made a qualifying offer and extend their budget to try to re-sign him, but he’d make a fine upgrade over Welington Castillo for the Cubs."

Whether or not he ends up in Chicago remains to be seen, but adding Martin would help bolster a young pitching staff and, when coupled with Joe Maddon as skipper, could help to lure free agent pitching to the team this winter. And he’d offer all of that before he ever caught a pitch in Cubbie blue.