In a surprising development, Russell Martin has decided to leave the New York Yankees for the Pittsburgh Pirates after the Yankees told him they could not afford to meet his contractual demands. Of all the notable Yankee free agents this offseason, Martin was probably the last one most people thought would leave New York.
In free agency, a player getting a lucrative offer from another team is always a possibility. But with their resources, the Yankees do not usually get outbid so this is a major surprise. There can now be no doubt that the Yankees are dead serious about coming in below that $189 million payroll threshold, given their unwillingness to match the two-year $17 million deal offered to Martin by the Pirates.
I never wrote much about Russell Martin on this blog, just a few mentions of praise here and there, namely with regard to his selfless decision to step aside and let a young Matt Wieters play in the 2011 All-Star game and about how his plunking helped bring the Yankees closer to together that year. Martin is one of those baseball players who is a steady presence behind the plate, beloved by his pitchers, but usually does his best work with little fanfare. The Yankees are going to miss him, even if he did struggle offensively through the first half of 2012, as their best catching prospects are still years away from the big leagues.
At least Martin will have a familiar face to catch in Pittsburgh. AJ Burnett is with the Pirates and will probably welcome his former Yankee teammate with open arms.