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Russell Martin: Yankees didn't try hard to keep me

Ramon Flores, right, scores past Pittsburgh Pirates catcher

Ramon Flores, right, scores past Pittsburgh Pirates catcher Russell Martin, center, and is greeted by Jacoby Ellsbury (22), who was on base for his two-run home run off Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Edinson Volquez in the second inning of a spring training game in Bradenton, Fla., Wednesday, Feb. 26, 2014. Credit: AP / Gene J. Puskar

BRADENTON, Fla. - It hardly was business as usual when the Yankees signed Brett Gardner to a four-year, $52-million extension last month and avoided free agency with the homegrown outfielder.

But when Gardner's deal was announced, general manager Brian Cashman mentioned two other players with whom he had made similar exceptions in trying to keep them in pinstripes.

The first was Robinson Cano, which was no surprise, given the yearlong drama that ended with his $240-million deal from the Mariners. The second, however, was Russell Martin.

Martin had become a dependable catcher with some offensive pop during his two seasons in the Bronx. But in the Yankees' universe, he didn't seem like the type of player who would prompt a policy shift for the Steinbrenner regime.

When asked Monday about those failed negotiations, Martin said the Yankees did talk extension with him during spring training of 2012, but he couldn't recall anything beyond that.

"Maybe somebody told [Cashman] to say that so he wouldn't look as bad,'' Martin said, smiling. "From my understanding, it's something they never did. It's a rare exception if it happens. They don't want that distraction."

And those spring training negotiations?

"They threw a number out there,'' Martin said, "and it was just something that I wasn't going to do. They threw out a line, trying to bait me. It just didn't work.''

Martin was happy with the Yankees. Standing at his Pirates locker before Monday's game at McKechnie Field was rained out, he sounded even happier now. Few would have predicted that when Martin blindsided the Yankees after the 2012 season by signing a two-year, $17- million deal with Pittsburgh before the talks even got serious with his own team.

At the time, it seemed a bit rash, especially with the Pirates looked upon as a still-maturing team trying to climb the lower rungs of a strong NL Central. But Martin, 31, became an integral part of last season's baseball rebirth in Pittsburgh as the Pirates ended a 21-year playoff drought. Not that he needed any further justification for his decision, but the team he left sat home in October for only the second time in 19 seasons.

"I think I'm that smart,'' Martin joked. "I didn't know how much talent there was [in Pittsburgh], but I definitely was pleasantly surprised when I got here. But you can have all the talent in the world, and if you don't believe in yourself, it's hard to translate that onto the field.

"As we went along, as we kept winning, you feel the confidence building. When you start believing in yourself, that's when magical things can happen, and that's kind of what happened last year.''

Martin hit only .226, 29 points below his career average, but slugged 15 homers -- or seven more than the Yankees' four catchers combined. Without Francisco Cervelli, who played only 17 games, the remaining trio of Chris Stewart, Austin Romine and John Ryan Murphy batted .206 combined.

The Yankees traded Stewart to Pittsburgh in December, but his reunion with Martin could be short-lived. The Pirates announced Monday that Stewart is scheduled to visit with Dr. James Andrews to have his injured right knee checked out, and he is expected to need surgery.

A year after Martin's defection, the Yankees solved their catching problem by signing Brian McCann to a five-year, $85-million contract.

"Hopefully he stays healthy and has a good year,'' Martin said. "And takes them to the promised land -- against us, late in October.''

Notes & quotes: Jacoby Ellsbury is expected to sit for a third consecutive game after Joe Girardi said his $153-million centerfielder likely will need more time to heal a tight right calf. If Ellsbury is sidelined again, he'll miss his first chance to play against the Red Sox, who visit Steinbrenner Field Tuesday . . . Monday's rainout forced Hiroki Kuroda to throw a 75-pitch bullpen session in Tampa.

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