The Pirates are shopping for catching in a thin market that leaves them few high-end choices and, according to one published report, aren’t shying away from the heat.
Jon Heyman reports on CBSsports.com that the Bucs have stepped up as finalists with the Yankees for Russell Martin’s services. At 29 — he will turn 30 during Spring Training — Martin is the youngest, by far, of 13 free-agent catchers.
Martin has also drawn interest from Texas and Seattle, after hitting the market seeking a long-term deal for about $10 million per. He has slightly backed off that figure, and the Pirates are portrayed as being will to go three years at $8 mil per.
One thing Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington has to be wary of: Not being used as leverage to get the Yankees to improve their offer. Martin is known to favor a return to New York, but the Yankees haven’t budged from offering a two-year deal, also in the $8 million-a-year range.
Martin’s age would be a plus for the Pirates, As would his weaponry behind the plate: He threw out 20 of 63 baserunners, a 24 percent rate that would be a vast improvement over the Pirates’ performance in 2012, with Rod Barajas as their lead guy.
Not so encouraging: Martin hit .211, merely five points higher than Barajas, with 10 more homers (21) and 22 more RBIs (53) in 101 more at-bats than Barajas, himself a free agent.
– Tom Singer
Jason Grilli, a first-time free agent at 36 after an eye-popping comeback season that solidified the Pirates’ bullpen, is turning into a hot commodity on the reliever market.
His agent, Gary Sheffield — yes, that Gary Sheffield, who retired as a player three years ago with 509 homers, tells the Boston Globe there are eight teams interested in the veteran right-hander.
If those eight include teams not turned off by Grilli’s understandable wish for a multi-year deal, the Bucs would not be one of them. The Pirates would very much like to retain Grilli, who struck out 90 in 58 2/3 innings and even served as Joel Hanrahan’s back-up closer. But they subscribe to the popular belief that the bullpen is a team’s most transient area, relatively easy to overhaul with young arms, and are very unlikely to offer a multi-year deal to any reliever.
“We have three offers right now.” Sheffield, based in Tampa, told the Boston newspaper. “We’re not in a hurry. There are some things we want to look at a little further. We’re not sure the market has fully developed for Jason.”
All things being the same, Grilli would want to return to Pittsburgh, which salvaged his career by signing him the day after the Phillies had released him in the middle of the 2011 season. But a one-year deal versus a longer-term contract is not the same.
Grilli has been in the Majors on-and-off since 2000, and has earned less than $5 million all that time. His Pirates contract in 2012 — for $1.1 million — was the largest of his career. Thus far.
– Tom Singer
The level of the Pirates’ interest in trading for Arizona outfielder Justin Upton has progressed from intriguing to exploratory, a result of blue-chip pitching prospects Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon coming out of the equation.
The trade-off piece apparently is high, with Starling Marte having entered the discussion. The prospect of including Marte, who has a half-season of Triple-A experience, in a deal for Upton, who at only one year older is a Major League veteran of five-and-a-half seasons, is highly fascinating.
Talk are at a preliminary stage and, even if they progress, Marte and Upton figure to only be the central characters in a blockbuster deal involving many other names.
Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington likes the part of Upton remaining under club control through 2015, when the six-year contract he signed in March 2010 expires. Huntington is less excited about that contract having $42.5 million remaining on it.
Irony: Upton’s six-year, $51.25 million deal was one of the templates for the six-year, $51.5 million extension signed by Andrew McCutchen prior to the start of this season.
– Tom Singer
PITTSBURGH — This was a crowd that came to cheer. Opening Day fans at PNC Park couldn’t hold their voices during the always-patriotic, sometimes solemn ceremonies that set the stage for the beginning of the Pirates’ 126th season.
With United States Military representatives presenting the colors around second base and introduced Pirates and Phillies lined up on their respective baselines, the observations began with a video montage of all the former Pirates who have passed away since the last Opening Day, followed by a request for a moment of silence.
Instead, the fans almost immediately broke into a standing ovation of gratitude for those players who’d thrilled them in bygone years.
Thinking they had heard the final verse of 11-year-old Shane Treloar’s stunning rendition of America the Beautiful, the crowd broke into appreciative applause. But Shane was only catching his breath, and continued on to an even louder ovation.
Then members of the Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Army Field Band Ensemble harmonized through a touching rendition of the National Anthem.
Grateful recognition of the military and of veterans culminated with Pittsburgh-native Jeremy Feldbusch delivering the ceremonial first pitch. Feldbusch lost his sight during his tour of duty in Iraq, when the Army Ranger’s unit came under fire and an explosive detonated near him.
Feldbusch, representing the Wounded Warriors Project, still delivered a perfect strike to get a perfect day of baseball’s perennial rebirth underway.