Russell Martin leaves Yankees for two-year deal with Pirates

Russell Martin connects on a base hit during Russell Martin connects on a base hit during Game 1 of the ALCS against the Detroit Tigers at Yankee Stadium. (Oct. 13, 2012) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

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Add catcher to the list of offseason needs for the Yankees.

In a move that shocked the system of more than a few, the small-market Pirates swooped in early Thursday night and wrested Russell Martin away from the Yankees. The agreement, reported to be for two years and $17 million, is contingent on Martin passing a physical that should take place Friday.

While there were reports the Yankees had made their own two-year offer, a source Thursday night said the club never made an offer of any kind.

Martin expressed his gratitude to the Yankees and their fans. "I want to thank the @yankees organization and fans for treating me with class and respect,'' he tweeted. " . . . I will truly miss the city and people of NY.''

Martin's departure is a blow to Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, who up until Thursday had been able to methodically cross off items on his offseason to-do list.

That included earlier in the day, when he put the finishing touches on a one-year deal -- worth about $10 million with incentives -- with closer Mariano Rivera, who turned 43 Thursday.

Andy Pettitte came back on a one-year deal earlier in the week and Hiroki Kuroda was retained last week, also agreeing to a one-year deal.

Cashman had hoped to have his pitching issues taken care of before the start of next week's winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., a mission accomplished with the Rivera deal, which could become official as soon as Friday.

But now catcher presents, at least on the surface, a gaping hole.

The Yankees have Francisco Cervelli, who spent the vast majority of last season at Triple-A, light-hitting Chris Stewart and Austin Romine as their options.

Though he didn't hit for average in his two seasons with the Yankees, Martin hit 39 homers, drove in 118 runs and drew his share of walks (103 in two seasons).

The free-agent market is thin, led by Mike Napoli and A.J. Pierzynski, neither of whom has drawn significant interest from the Yankees. Both are likely to command dollars in the neighborhood of Martin's contract.

Given the issues with the catching position, the decision to let Martin go hardly was met with unanimity within the Yankees' organization. But the mandate from managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner to get the payroll to $189 million by 2014 ruled the day.

The question remains if the Yankees end up ruing the day they let Martin -- a strong defensive catcher whose leadership and toughness elicited comparisons to Thurman Munson from Cashman -- sign elsewhere.

That was never a concern with Rivera, who informed Cashman Nov. 2 of his desire to pitch next season.

The Yankees and Rivera spent Thursday putting the finishing touches on a one-year contract, which is expected to have a base salary in the $10- million range, a cut from the $15 million he made last season.

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