By Bruce Levine-
(CBS) The Chicago Cubs will meet with free-agent catcher Russell Martin and his agent, Matt Colleran, in the next week. At stake will be the meeting of the minds on a possible long-term contract. Martin, who will turn 32 in February, has a long record of helping teams and their pitching staffs become championship contenders. The asking price may reach four to five years at around $13 million to $15 million per season.
Ascending through the Dodgers organization as a youngster and moving to the Yankees and Pirates, the heady Martin has helped develop young staffs while gaining the confidence of veteran pitchers on each club he has played for. Martin is coming off of one of his best seasons since breaking into the major leagues in 2006, hitting .290 with 11 home runs and 67 RBIs in 2014. He was also stellar year behind the plate, throwing out 39 percent of runners trying to steal (the second-best rate in the National League).
The Cubs have a good young catcher in the 27-year-old Welington Castillo, who could bring back a solid pitcher or starting outfielder in a deal if Martin chose to sign with Chicago. Castillo has improved dramatically since taking over as the team’s starting catcher in 2013. He hit a career-high 13 home runs in 2014 but saw his batting average plunge 37 points from 2013, dropping to .237. Castillo threw out a solid 31.3 percent of runners trying to steal, but the thinking among some of the Cubs’ evaluators is that his pitch calling leaves something to be desired.
There are numerous teams, including the Dodgers, Yankees and Philadelphia, that are looking for a young starting catcher like Castillo. The Cubs’ brass believes the key to its two world championship runs with the Red Sox was the way catcher Jason Varitek handled the pitching staff and led by example. At similar ages as Russell is, Varitek had his best years in terms of on-base percentage seasons (.390 in 2004 and .367 in 2007). Russell is coming off of the best on-base percentage season of his career, reaching at a .402 clip in 2014. For a Cubs team that had a collective .300 on-base percentage, the allure of a leader behind the plate and a selective hitter who can bat anywhere from two through eight in the lineup is intriguing.
The Pirates, Dodgers and Blue Jays are reportedly highly interested in signing Martin.
Bruce Levine covers the Cubs and White Sox for 670 The Score and CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @MLBBruceLevine.