The Red Sox unquestionably had a better off-season than the Yankees when it comes to acquisitions, landing the big splash free-agents that propelled them to the top of virtually everyone's pre-season prognostications while the Yankees Lee-or-bust approach to starting pitching ended in, well, bust. And as the Sox have finally started to play to their potential while the Yankees' starting pitching woes continue, it seems only a matter of time before the Sox challenge for the top spot in the AL East. But at one position – and an extremely important one at that - the Yankees seem at this early stage of the season to have gotten the clear upper hand.
Russell Martin is playing like a guy who wants everyone to know that his career is far from over. The 28-year old former all-star catcher was looked over by some teams, made to feel too risky by the Sox, and ultimately snatched up by the Yankees. Not yet a month into the 2011 season, the move is looking brilliant, not only because the highly touted Yankee catching prospects Jesus Montero and Austin Romine proved in Spring training to be not-quite-ready-for-prime-time, but because Martin has quickly asserted himself as more than capable of managing a patchwork pitching staff and as a serious force to be reckoned with at the plate.
Here is how Martin ranks among the 27 catchers who have at least 45 plate appearances in a few key offensive categories: BA: 4th (.311); OBP: 2nd (.391); SLG: 1st (.656); OPS: 1st (1.047); RBI: 1st (16); HR: 1st (6). By comparison, Saltalamacchia is yet to break the top 20 in any of these categories except RBIs, in which he ranks 20th.
Only time will tell if Martin's hip – the main source of the Sox' pre-season concern with him - will hold up for the duration of the season. In the end, the Yankees may not need it to. Montero is doing everything he can to get back on the radar screen, tearing it up in the International League (through 14 games he is batting .407 with a .400 OBP and .925 OPS). But as long as Martin can maintain this kind of production, Yankee fans should be thrilled by the catcher that Cashman et al landed while the sound and fury over Cliff Lee, Rafael Soriano, and related soap operas played out this past Spring.