First of all, I want to make it clear that I never wish injury on anyone. I am just saying that based on the facts, there’s a decent chance Russell Martin will spend some time on the shelf. Essentially, the Yankees watched Martin sign with the Pirates without ever making him a serious offer. I’m venturing to guess that his injury history is part of why they let him walk.
When the Yankees signed Martin following the 2010 season, he was a bit of an unknown commodity. He had been an above-average offensive catcher with a strong defensive reputation, but he was coming off of a very unusual injury. Martin suffered a hairline fracture in his right hip on August 3, 2010. The uncertainty surrounding his hip allowed the Yankees to get him at a deep discount: a one year, $4 million dollar deal. He was still arbitration eligible in 2012 so the team ended up bringing him back for $7.5 million. Martin did show the ability to remain relatively healthy the last two years, but the fact remains that he sustained a pretty significant injury in 2010.
Generally speaking, hip fractures tend to be an issue with the elderly people rather than men in their 20’s. I am far from an expert on these matters so that’s about all the original insight I can give. So here’s what people smarter than me have to say about hip fractures:
In a large population-based study of hip fracture recurrence in Rochester, Minnesota, the overall risk of any recurrence, ipsilateral or contralateral, was estimated to be 29% by 20 years after initial fracture, 1.6 times greater than expected. The risk of recurrence was greater in patients who had initial fractures associated with moderate trauma and in younger patients.
Usually, if the injury is diagnosed early and the patient does not return to training too rapidly, tension-side fractures also do well. However, up to 25% of patients may have residual hip pain, discomfort, and gait problems 5-7 years after treatment.
Based on this data, it seems there’s a decent rate of recurrence in young people for these types of injuries. So it’s understandable why the Yankees didn’t want to guarantee him the 2 years he was been demanding. These studies also state that hip fractures can lead to Avascular Necrosis (AVN) – better known as “What Mike Napoli Has.” Napoli’s 3/$39MM deal shrunk to an incentive-laden $5MM one year pact when it was discovered he had the disease. Obviously, that seems like something that could sap a player’s value.
I think Martin’s injury history is something that was more or less overlooked this offseason when the Yankees let him walk. Yes, he’s had little to no ill effects from the injury since his rehab, but recurrence is always a possibility. Considering all of the crouching associated with being a catcher, healthy hips are paramount. Most of Martin’s value is tied to his ability to play catcher at an above-average level so it’s understandable why the Yankees didn’t want to give him the 2 years. With the 2014 austerity budget looming, the Yankees simply can’t afford to have $9MM wasted on a player who might provide no value in return. He would essentially turn into a replacement-level player if injury forced him to move out from behind the plate, even if his offense was unaffected.
While his hip has remained healthy, Martin has had other health problems crop up in the last couple of years. He had surgery to repair a torn meniscus prior to the 2011 season and has missed time with lower back pain each of the last two years. I have no idea if these problems have a realistic chance of recurring, but I would bet the Yankees do. They have records of every physical and every MRI Martin has had since they signed him. They also know about every instance where he reported some sort of pain to the team’s trainers. The team employs top-notch doctors and statistical data analysts who are paid to predict precisely these types of things.
Maybe I’m squinting a little too hard to justify a questionable move, but I am trusting the Yankees organization on this one. Heading into the offseason, they knew Martin better than anyone and chose not to bring him back. It certainly doesn’t seem like this had anything to do with the team’s internal options (or lack thereof). So the best explanation is that the team sees him as a substantial injury risk. I guess time will tell whether or not the Pirates bought a lemon this offseason.
Photo by Anc516 at the English language Wikipedia [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons