NEW YORK (AP) — Catcher Russell Martin finalized a $4 million, one-year contract with the New York Yankees on Thursday.
Martin will become the primary catcher, with Jorge Posada shifting to designated hitter. Barring a trade, Francisco Cervelli, Jesus Montero and Austin Romine will compete for a reserve role.
“He was one of the premier catchers in the game not too long ago,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “From performance and injuries the last two years, he’s slipped from that status, but we feel he’s a low-risk, high reward scenario.”
Martin will have surgery Monday to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee, an injury the Yankees discovered during his physical. Cashman said Martin should be ready by the start of spring training.
The 27-year-old became a free agent when the Los Angeles Dodgers failed to offer a 2011 contract. An NL All-Star in 2007 and 2008, he set career lows last season with a .248 average, five homers and 26 RBIs in 97 games. His season was cut short Aug. 3 when he broke his right hip and tore a labrum against San Diego while tagging up and trying to score on a flyball.
He had 19 homers in 2007 and 90 RBIs the following year.
“It could be a physical thing,” Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. “But I believe we can get him back to where he was. He’s a patient hitter. He knows how to work the count.”
New York had planned to move the 40-year-old Posada from behind the plate, and Cashman had been saying Cervelli would compete with the two young players for playing time.
“As these kids take the next step to the major league level, they can develop on their time frame, and now the time frame is not forced on them because we need them now at all cost,” Cashman said. “Instead of sink or swim, it’s now a situation where we can ease them in.”
Girardi said the youngsters may be better off in the minors than a promotion to a major league backup role.
“It is a position that you want guys playing every day, improving their skills,” he said.
Martin can earn an additional $1,375,000 in performance bonuses for games played at catcher: $50,000 each for 30 and 35, and $75,000 apiece for 40 and each addition five through 120.
Part of Martin’s job, along with that of Posada, will be mentoring Montero and Romain.
“We have great depth,” Cashman said. “We have great protection from injuries.”
Statement from the Yankees:
The New York Yankees today announced they have signed free agent catcher Russell Martin to a one-year contract.
Martin, 27, is a two-time National League All-Star, having been elected as the league’s starting catcher in 2007 and being voted in by players and coaches in 2008. In 2007, he also received the Louisville Silver Slugger Award and the Rawlings Gold Glove Award, joining Dusty Baker in 1981 as the only Dodgers players ever to win both honors in the same season.
The Ontario, Canada, native has caught 119-of-459 (25.9 percent) of potential base stealers since making his Major League debut in 2006, totaling the second-most runners caught stealing in the Majors over the stretch behind only Gerald Laird (142). Over the same span, he leads all Major League catchers with a 3.76 catchers ERA (minimum 240 games).
Originally selected by the Dodgers in the 17th round of the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, Martin owns a career .272 (638-for-2,344) batting average with 347 runs, 115 doubles, 54 home runs and 300 RBI in 667 games, all with the Dodgers. He has appeared in the postseason three times, serving as the starting catcher in each of the Dodgers’ 19 playoff games since 2006.
In 2010, Martin made his fourth consecutive Opening Day start at catcher for the Dodgers and hit .248 (82-for-331) with 45 runs, 13 doubles, five home runs and 26 RBI in 97 games before suffering a season-ending right hip fracture and torn labrum on August 3 vs. San Diego.