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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