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The Curious Case of Russell Martin

The Dodgers have a wonderful dilemma.  Their quandary is to figure out just what to pay their most rare commodity:  a young, all-star catcher in Russell Martin.  Unlike the relatively straightforward cases of Andre Ethier and Jonathan Broxton -- in which comparable players can be researched and a rough idea about salary can be deduced -- Russell Martin is a very unique player.  His comparable players aren't really comparable at all due to very different circumstances.

Let's take a look through the details to see if we can find a reasonable guess as to what Martin will make in 2009 and beyond:

It's tough to find a player in the exact same situation as Russell Martin, who fits these criteria:

1) Catcher

2) All-Star (or in the case of Martin, multiple All-Star)

3) Productive Hitter (Martin has three straight 100 OPS+ seasons)

4) Super Two

Here are the ones who come the closest to matching Martin's situation:

Joe Mauer

Mauer has a legitimate claim to the title of best catcher in MLB, but let's take a look at where he was when he signed his long-term (4-year) contract before the 2007 season.

Catcher Year Service Time Career G Career OPS+ All-Star G Salary
Mauer 2007 3.000 306 128 1 $3,750,000
Martin 2009 2.150 427 108 2 tbd

Mauer's 2007 seems pretty close to the figure Martin will end up with.  It was two years ago, so there will be an inflation raise, but Mauer also had more service time so that balances it out a bit.

Brian McCann

McCann's case is even more unique since he signed his long-term deal so early (after only 1+ year of service time) so let's take a look at both his 3rd and 4th year salary (Martin would fall in between)

Catcher Year Service Time Career G Career OPS+ All-Star G Salary
McCann 2008 2.117 328 116 2 $800,000
Martin 2009 2.150 427 108 2 tbd
McCann 2009 3.117 473 122 3 $3,500,000

McCann has been more productive than Martin, but his salary for 2009 is discounted by the fact that it was signed so early -- before 2007, the second of three straight All-Star years for McCann.

Victor Martinez

We have to go to the relative way back machine for Martinez, since his contract was signed before the 2005 season.  Like McCann, Martinez signed after only 1+ year of service time

Catcher Year Service Time Career G Career OPS+ All-Star G Salary
Martinez 2006 2.114 349 121 1 $800,000
Martin 2009 2.150 427 108 2 tbd
Martinez 2007 3.114 502 121 1 $3,000,000

Like McCann, we have to adjust for inflation to compare this to Martin but it's a decent enough comparable.  Let's see if we can use a more recent contract as a comp...

Ryan Doumit

Just last month, Doumit signed a three-year extension with the Pirates, through his arbitration years.  Once again, Doumit doesn't exactly fit the profile (he's never been an all-star, and he's not a Super Two like Martin), but he's a close enough comp so let's see what we have:

Catcher Year Service Time Career G Career OPS+ All-Star G Salary
Doumit 2008 2.120 219 96 0 $412,000
Martin 2009 2.150 427 108 2 tbd
Doumit 2009 3.120 335 109 0 $2,350,000

Doumit's 2009 includes a $300,000 signing bonus.

All of these contracts have their differences with Martin's current situation.  Some were signed too early and don't reflect what would have been closer to the market rate (McCann, Martinez), and in the case of Doumit, Martin can claim the more impressive resume. 

It appears the Joe Mauer contract is the most comparable to Russell Martin.  I'm inclined to say Martin will make somewhere near $4 million in 2009, but I can see a case where Martin taps to the intangibles on his resume (leader of two division winners in three years, two-time all-star).  Ryan Howard last season was in the same service time situation as Martin this year, and he set a salary record.  Granted, Martin isn't an MVP like Howard, but you have to wonder if the bar for everyone else has been raised.

I just hope the Dodgers don't hire Tal Smith to represent them in any of their arbitration cases.