NY Sports Day
Matt Mankiewich

Karpin’s Korner: Mets Favorite Martin, Clint Still in Play

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The Mets’ strength is their starting rotation and they hope the bullpen will follow suit, but there’s a player out there who could help their pitching staff and makes a lot of sense.

Reportedly, the team is showing some interest 37-year old free agent catcher Russell Martin, who would be a nice fit for the Mets. Despite an expected drop off in his offensive numbers, Martin still projects as a solid defender behind the plate. With the core of this Mets’ team still fairly young, Martin’s leadership skills would be valuable, both on the field and in the clubhouse.

Wilson Ramos is the starter and is the better hitter at this point than Martin. Tomas Nido is the back up but with the advent of the 26-man roster this season, maybe the Mets sign Martin to a one year deal as a third catcher on the roster. Having a third catcher makes a lot more sense to an NL team than one in the American League. (Oakland also has reportedly shown interest) Martin can also play third and he has taken the mound in the past. With new rules in place, the Mets could utilize him in case there is an 8-run margin in the ninth inning and they want to avoid wasting another pitcher. (Beginning this season, position players are not allowed to pitch, unless there is an 8-run lead in the ninth inning, or in extra innings, if a team runs out of pitchers)

Martin was a terrific signing when the Yankees inked him to a two-year contract back in 2011. His grit and his toughness behind the plate was just what the Yankees needed at the time to start the transition away from Jorge Posada who was in his final year in 2011.

There was a game in 2011 where Martin’s grit and toughness were center stage. The Yankees were playing the Cubs in the second of a three game, interleague series at Wrigley Field.

The Yankees were leading 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth when the Cubs had the bases loaded and one out. Geovany Soto hit a fly ball to left field that Brett Gardner caught and threw home. Carlos Pena tried to score but the ball beat him badly so he led with his shoulder and tried to knock the ball loose from Martin. It was as if an NFL special teams player was making a legal hit on a punt returner.

This was a time when home plate collisions were not outlawed yet. Martin took the brunt of the blow and was knocked down hard but he got up, almost immediately, and showed Pena that he had the ball to complete the inning ending double play. That toughness rubbed off on his teammates. A.J. Burnett was on the mound at the time and that play helped him get the win as the Yanks held on for a 4-3 win. Burnett benefitted from Martin’s presence behind the plate.

Martin hit .211 in 2012 and that’s what prompted some of the Yankees hierarchy to be turned off to a reunion in 2013. They failed to remember that it was Martin who was a key factor in helping the Yankees hold off the Baltimore Orioles in a very tight race for the AL East Division title.

On September 4th of that season, the Yankees and Orioles (yes, the Orioles but that was 8 years ago) were tied for first place. The Yankees’ lead was never more than 1.5 games the rest of the season until the final day when the season ending lead was two games. Martin, who hit 7 home runs with 17 runs batted in that final month, got a number of big hits including a walk off, tenth inning, home run to help the Yankees beat the A’s 2-1 and maintain a one game lead with 12 games left in the regular season.

As far as that Mets’ rotation, give GM Brodie Van Wagenen for bringing in some starting pitching depth. Adding two arms in Rick Porcello and Micheal Wacha was a smart move. They’re not expensive contracts and the Mets have to plan in the event that they don’t get the same amount of starts from their rotation as they got during a relatively healthy free 2019 season.

The Mets received 127 starts from the foursome of Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler and Steven Matz. Jason Vargas and Marcus Stroman made 30 starts combined as the Mets used only six starting pitchers all season long. Those are phenomenal numbers and to duplicate that as a group will be very, very difficult, so it made sense to add to that mix.

It’s funny how Clint Frazier and J.A. Happ have been the subject of numerous trade rumors but both could end up being contributing factors this season.

I’ve always been high on Frazier. The kid got himself stuck in a “whirlpool of controversy” last season and could never get himself righted. It didn’t help his cause when he ducked the media after that Sunday night disaster against Boston last season. Some of that was immaturity, and maybe some of those defensive miscues was a result of that unfortunate concussion he suffered in 2018. He showed that a bit during his interview with Joe Benigno and Evan Roberts during their radio show yesterday.

I think Frazier can improve defensively and, from all accounts, he’s working very hard to do that.

He also has to take a cue from the Mets’ Dominic Smith and change his attitude and start to earn the respect of his teammates. Smith didn’t start off on the right foot with the Mets, but he did a remarkable job of turning things around and now, he’s one of the most respected and revered players on the team.

Frazier has apparently begun that process. With Giancarlo Stanton on the shelf once again and Aaron Hicks not expected back until June, the Yankees are thin on outfielders. Mike Tauchman is still unproven as an offensive player and to expect Brett Gardner to duplicate his career year is not realistic. Miguel Andujar is trying to learn the outfield but I have a feeling he’ll end up back in the infield. You know Frazier will hit (and hit good pitching) so he may get a chance to get some consistent playing time.

Happ is a good pitcher who can definitely rebound in 2020. He had the home run “yips” last season but so did everyone, it seemed. The veteran left hander seemed to find it down the stretch of last season and is looking to carry that over to 2020. In two outings so far this spring, Happ has looked like it is carrying over.

I like what I’ve seen from Clarke Schmidt. The young right hander’s repertoire features a live fastball, a nasty, late moving slider, and a change-up that are plus pitches. Schmidt has also been working on his curve. There’s only so much you can ascertain from watching on television, but the 24-year old looks like he has a shot to be up in the big leagues at some point this season.

Yankee fans are frustrated with Stanton’s inability to stay on the field and they also cite his poor post season record. Other Yankees have been somewhat injury prone (Luis Severino, Aaron Judge) yet they get a pass because they’re fan favorites.

I wasn’t doing cartwheels when the Stanton trade was made. I didn’t think the Yankees needed him and that panned out last season when he only played 18 games in a 103-win season. Now, they’re stuck with him, so hopefully both sides can make the best of it.

One thing to remember about Stanton, he came back from being hit in the face by a pitch in 2014. Many players have never been the same after they’re hit in the face. The late Tony Conigliaro and Paul Blair both come to mind. Both were terrific, all around players who got hit in the face and were never the same.

Stanton came back and hit 59 home runs and won an MVP. I understand Yankee fans don’t want to hear that because he hasn’t been that great in a Yankee uniform, but it’s not a done deal that he won’t produce in the post season.

Karpin’s Korner appears every Friday on nysportsday.com


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