The New York Yankees have to be pleasantly surprised with their collection of garage-sale pick-ups this off-season and rising to the top of the scrap-heap is catcher Russell Martin. The Dodgers cast-off, who was coming off two disappointing and frustrating seasons in Los Angeles, has a .600 slugging percentage this season; which ranks seventh in the AL.
Martin, who has caught every game this season except one, is taking over nicely for the veteran Jorge Posada. The Yankee backstop's new-found positive attitude is showing too. He blamed his poor performances in 2009-10 on being unfocused. According to his new Yankees teammates, that is all in the past.
Starter A.J. Burnett--the recipient of three wins with Martin--joked that his new catcher might have just wanted his nails orange, but got serious when asked how the catcher is calling for more change-ups over fastballs in a game.
"He believes in it, and I'm starting to, more and more," said the 3-0 starter.
Yankees GM Brian Cashman took a chance on Martin. The Canadian native came up with the Dodgers in 2006 and had three solid years in a row before slumping in 2009 and breaking a hip in 2010. He is a two-time all-star and has a Gold Glove award on his mantle. Last season looks like a faded ghost of the real Martin. He hit only five home-runs in 97 games last year.
Now the new Yankee is hitting .289 with four home runs and 11 RBI's in 13 games. If anyone believes a catcher, built like a fullback, can't steal bases, especially after watching Posada chug around the base paths, should know Martin already has a couple of stolen bases too.
Martin chose the Yankees over the Boston Red Sox because he said the Yankees wanted him more. He signed a one-year deal for $4 Million. Now the insecurity of his last two seasons has been put far behind.
"I want to prove to myself I can do it," said Martin. "I'm 28 years-old. I don't really feel old. I don't really feel beat up. I've healed from my injuries. I feel back in shape and I' enjoying playing baseball."
Martin's transition from Dodger blue to Yankee pinstripes had to be made easier by associating with Dodgers and former Yankee idols--hitting coach Don Mattingly and manager Joe Torre. Martin was under the tutelage of the two Yankee legends for the past few seasons and it's a sure bet Yankee tradition was not unspoken in the L.A. dugout.
Cashman's flea-market pick-up of Dodger's reject Martin, so far, looks like an "Antiques Roadhouse" type bonanza. One man's trash...
Besides his offensive resurgence and contributions, Martin has ingratiated himself to the veteran World Series-winning Yankee players with his sense of humor and humility.
The six-year veteran Martin actually went up to Posada, whom he is replacing, and asked the veteran catcher--with 16 years under his belt-- for advice at the beginning of the season. Not a bad company move by Martin--even for a pro with a couple of All-Star appearances himself.
"On this team, they think about winning, whatever it takes," he said. "It's just a good environment to be in."
Martin may be considered to be one of the first-place Yankees' consolation prizes after the losses of Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford; but has already proven to be healthy and back to All-Star form. He said his injuries were blown out of proportion and claims he's had only one surgery to "cleanup" a knee and his broken hip has healed on it's own.
"You guys can't always believe what you read in the paper," he joked.