It isn’t often that the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the New York Yankees to a free agent.
But it happened Thursday, when the Pirates reached agreement with free-agent catcher Russell Martin on a contract. The deal is for two years, $17 million. Martin earned $7.5 million last season.
”I want to thank the @yankees organization and fans for treating me with class and respect… I will truly miss the city and people of NY,” Martin posted on his Twitter account late Thursday.
The Yankees wanted to re-sign Martin, but evidently did not want to go to the same financial level as the Pirates.
Chris Stewart, Francisco Cervelli and prospect Austin Romine are the Yankees’ remaining catchers. Mike Napoli and A.J. Pierzynski are the top available free agents.
Martin, 29, batted just .211 last season for the Yankees, but with a .713 OPS, 21 home runs and 53 RBI.
He grew impressed with Pirates manager Clint Hurdle when Hurdle managed the National League All-Star team in 2008 and also was impressed with the Pirates’ potential, a source said.
The signing reunites Martin with right-hander A.J. Burnett. The two played together with the Yankees in 2011 before Burnett was traded to Pittsburgh last spring.
The Pirates were in need of an experienced backstop after declining the club option on Rod Barajas, who struggled in his one season in black-and-gold. Barajas hit .206 with 11 homers in 104 games and struggled defensively, throwing out just 6 percent (6 of 99) potential base stealers.
Backup Mike McKenry fared better but neither have Martin’s resume. Martin threw out 25 percent (20 of 83) base stealers last season and committed just six errors in 128 games at catcher, the same total Barajas had in 24 fewer appearances.
The signing is the latest dip into deeper pockets by Pittsburgh, who went 79-83 in 2012, tied for the franchise’s best record in the last 20 years. The season was marred by a late fade in which the Pirates fell from playoff contention but the team opted to not make any major changes to the front office and instead focus on upgrading several spots, with catcher being among the top priorities.