Russell Martin’s free agency looms large as Pirates face offseason

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The Pirates aren’t known for opening their wallets, but they’ll have to dig deep this winter to keep Russell Martin, arguably their second most important player in their last two postseason runs.

Martin is coming off the best offensive performance of his career, a .290/.402/.430 campaign in 111 games. However, it could prove to be an isolated performance. Martin had similar seasons in his first three years with the Dodgers from 2006-08, but since then his OPSs read: .680, .679, .732, .713, .703 and .832. The last mark sticks out like a sore thumb, and Martin has quite a bit of mileage on his soon-to-be 32-year-old body.

Making things more problematic for the Pirates is that not only is Martin the best catcher available in free agency, he completely laps the field. The fallbacks as potential starters are Nick Hundley, Geovany Soto and A.J. Pierzynski.

The Pirates don’t have a quality internal solution either. Former first-round pick Tony Sanchez isn’t known for his defense, and it’s not like he really makes up for it with his bat, either. Light-hitting Chris Stewart remains under control, but the backup role is all he’s really suited for.

If the Pirates can’t get a deal done with Martin in the coming weeks, the Rockies and Rangers figure to target him in free agency. Other suitors could also emerge, with the Dodgers, Angels, Cubs and Astros possibly jumping into the mix.

Besides Martin, the Pirates face losing starters Francisco Liriano and Edinson Volquez in free agency this winter, which would leave them looking at more buy-low candidates to go along with Gerrit Cole and Charlie Morton in next year’s rotation. They’ll also have to make a decision on how to handle first base, which will probably involve non-tendering either Ike Davis or Pedro Alvarez.

Maddon: Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch again for Angels this year

Shohei Ohtani
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Shohei Ohtani won’t pitch again this season for the Los Angeles Angels after straining his right forearm in his second start, manager Joe Maddon says.

Ohtani likely will return to the Angels’ lineup as their designated hitter this week, Maddon said Tuesday night before the club opened a road series against the Seattle Mariners.

The Angels’ stance on Ohtani is unsurprising after the club announced he had strained the flexor pronator mass near the elbow of his pitching arm. The two-way star’s recovery from the strain requires him to abstain from throwing for four to six weeks, which covers most of the shortened 2020 season.

“I’m not anticipating him pitching at all this year,” Maddon said. “Any kind of throwing program is going to be very conservative.”

Ohtani was injured Sunday in the second inning of his second start since returning to the mound following Tommy John surgery in late 2018. Ohtani issued five walks during the 42-pitch inning against the Houston Astros, with his velocity dropping later in the frame.

The arm injury is another obstacle in Ohtani’s path to becoming the majors’ first true two-way player in decades. He made 10 mound starts as a rookie in 2018 before injuring his elbow, but he served as the Angels’ regular designated hitter last season while recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Ohtani has pitched in only three games since June 2018, but the Angels still believe in Ohtani’s ability to be a two-way player, Maddon said.

“I’m seeing that he can,” Maddon said. “We’ve just got to get past the arm maladies and figure that out. But I’ve seen it. He’s just such a high-end arm, and we’ve seen what he can do in the batter’s box. Now maybe it might get to the point where he may choose to do one thing over the other and express that to us. I know he likes to hit. In my mind’s eye, he’s still going to be able to do this.”

The veteran manager believes Ohtani will benefit from a full spring training and a normal season. Ohtani wasn’t throwing at full strength for a starter when the coronavirus pandemic shut down spring training in March because he wasn’t expected to pitch until May as he returned from surgery.

“Going into a regular season with a normal number of starts and all the things that permit guys to be ready for a year, that’s what we need to see is some normalcy before you make that kind of determination,” Maddon said.

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