Mike Napoli may be the backup plan at catcher next season if the Yankees fail to re-sign Russell Martin. (Image: Jim Cowsert-US PRESSWIRE)

Yankees Rumor Mill: Torii Hunter, Mike Napoli and Russell Martin

The New York Yankees used to wield their financial might when they wanted to land a free agent. Now, the reticent Bombers have plenty of competition because of their desire to lower payroll and other team’s ability to spend. Baseball is prospering and when it does the free agent market follows suit.

Torii Hunter has been suggested to be on the Yankees radar since the end of the season, but it looks like he is one of the hotter commodities among outfielders with as many as 13-14 teams showing varying interest in the 37-year-old. Hunter’s allure is the fact that he will accept a two-year deal and he showed this season that he still has something left in the tank. The Detroit Tigers and Atlanta Braves seem to have the inside edge to Hunter according to various reports. Dan Miller of the New York Post reports Hunter won’t take long to make his decision. Hunter stated, “This is going to be quick.”

The Yankees reportedly have some interest in Mike Napoli as a fallback option if they cannot re-sign Russell Martin according to a tweet from USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale. Napoli started 69 games at catcher last season for the Texas Rangers. The rest of his time was spent at first base and DH. Martin is a much better defensive catcher than Napoli, but Napoli has a slight edge over Martin with the bat, though his .227/.343/.469 line with the Rangers was not all that much better than Martin’s .211/.311/.403. Napoli hit 24 home runs to Martin’s 21. It is unlikely the Yankees want Napoli behind the plate, but they must be ready in case Martin goes elsewhere. Napoli does provide a bit of versatility in that he could spell Mark Teixeira at first base on occasion and obviously would be a good fit at DH against lefties, but the Yankees will want to leave the DH spot as open as possible to get days for their aging veterans.

As for Martin, the chances of him catching for another team are good. The incredibly thin free agent market at the position has sparked interest in Martin from at least five other teams according to ESPN New York’s Andrew Marchand. Martin’s work behind the plate didn’t suffer the same fate as his bat did for much of the season. His strong finish with the stick and a look at his peripheral stats (.222 BABIP in 2012 versus .286 in his career) show teams, including the Yankees that he could have a nice bounce back 2013 season. The Rangers are among the teams Marchand lists as possibilities and after talking about Napoli above the fit is easy to see. Martin figured to have a rough go in free agency after the disappointing season and it was felt that he’d rue the day he turned down a three-year deal worth $20 million from the Yankees last season, but the market could dictate otherwise.

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  • http://YanksGoYard.com/ Matt Hunter

    I think you’re underplaying the offensive difference between Martin and Napoli. Martin was basically an average hitter the past two years (98 wRC+), but Napoli hit for a higher average, walked more, and hit for more power (146 wRC+). Plus, he has the potential to absolutely rake, as he showed in 2011 with a .320/.414/.631 line. Even with the bad defense, Napoli had 7.6 WAR to Martin’s 5.2 in the last 2 years. That being said, he’ll probably be too costly for the Yankees since he would unlikely be able to catch every day. I’m a little terrified that Martin is going to cost a fortune and the Yankees will have to use Whiteside as a starter. I know it probably won’t happen, but that would be a very bad situation.

    • Chris_Carelli

      I should have been more specific and said that the $ that Napoli could get is not worth the offensive difference compared to Martin in my opinion. Also, I think you may be giving too much credence to Napoli’s obvious outlier season of 2011. He never produced a WAR greater than 2.9 before that. Plus, if he continues to play only 1/2 his games at catcher, his positional value decreases while at 1B and DH and so his WAR will decrease because of it. Both are going to make more than they are worth because of the market. You nailed it on the head, Napoli would not catch enough to warrant a lofty contract at least in New York. Martin is the better of two evils at this point considering the financial restraint required. It is another instance in which the Yankees have painted themselves into a corner.

      • http://YanksGoYard.com/ Matt Hunter

        You’re right I think I’m getting my love for Napoli in fantasy in the way of his real-life value haha. Yeah the catcher market is just so thin right now that you have to think Martin will get offered a lot. I like Pierzinski too but again, he’s likely to be overpaid. I really wish Romine was ready to go, but we’re probably a year off from that at least.

        • Chris_Carelli

          Ha, Napoli can be a fantasy stud! Pierzynski is another player who benefits from the market and a very good 2012 season. The problem is that none of them is going to take less than two years now and that plays a large part in the Yankees plans for 2014. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, but everything they do now directly impacts their approach to 2014.

          You’re right, had Romine played last season we would probably not be having this discussion. He’s not hitting a lick in the AFL right now either which shows you he’s got more work ahead of him to get back to form. It also doesn’t look like many of the other catchers available are more than backups except MAYBE Kelly Shoppach, who would be significantly cheaper than these guys.