Yankees Need Russell Martin More Than Red Sox, Likely to Win Bidding War for Backstop

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — It won't have the cache of the Mark Teixeira sweepstakes or battles over Bernie Williams or Curt Schilling, not to mention countless other stars, but it appears as if the latest Red Sox-Yankees bidding war has begun.

Both teams are earnestly involved in "intensifying" talks with free-agent catcher Russell Martin, an effort to make upgrades at one of the questionable positions in both cities.

The Sox have insisted they are OK and "comfortable" with the catching combination of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek. However, on Monday, general manager Theo Epstein did say he would not rule out adding depth at the position. In bringing in Martin, that depth would likely become Saltalamacchia, who has options and can start out at Triple-A.

Whether that is the way to go remains to be seen, but Boston has been reported to be "making a strong push" for Martin.

While he has a bit gaudier reputation than Saltalamacchia, Martin still presents a risk. He is expected to be ready once spring training rolls around but a hip injury cut short his 2010 season, the third in a row which saw his production decline.

Martin's OPS over the past four years is as follows: .843, .781, .680, .679. His batting average: .293, .280, .250, .248.

And there is concern that the 294 games he played behind the plate between 2007 and 2008 took their toll. Martin led the league in that category both years but has managed to average just 111 at the position since then.

What makes that less of a fear for the Sox is the presence of Jason Varitek. Manager Terry Francona said Tuesday at the winter meetings that the captain will play more games than the typical backup. Perhaps the Boston brass is hopeful that with a little less playing time Martin will regain some of the offensive firepower that saw him hit .293 with 19 homers and 87 RBIs in 2007.

Additionally, even as his offensive numbers have declined, Martin has succeeded where the Red Sox catching corps has not. He has thrown out 31 percent of runners in his career, including 39 percent in his 93 games last year. Boston, by contrast, posted percentages of 20 percent in 2010 and an embarrassing 13 percent the year before.

That's the primary reason the Yankees are involved. While Jorge Posada still possesses some offensive ability, he is a shadow of his former self as a defender, and his former self was never noted as anything special on that end. Reserve Francisco Cervelli, for all his hustle and attitude, also has some messy moments behind the dish — he was second in the majors in errors as a catcher with 13, while starting less than half the Yankees games at the position.

Both clubs could have the need, but it's the Yankees that may have it more. Usually, if that's the case, they will get their man.

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