PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh Pirates manager Clint Hurdle is in love, and he may be headed for heartbreak.
The object of his affection is catcher Russell Martin, whose two-year contract expires when this season ends.
Hurdle effusively praises Martin for all he brings, some of which are qualities only a manager can appreciate. Martin's throwing ability seriously impedes the opponent's running game. He frames pitches well. He knows how to work the umpires. He takes charge with the pitching staff. He understands and executes the game plan for each pitcher. He's a presence in the clubhouse and has the respect of teammates.
If he doesn't re-sign, the Pirates will miss all of that. Former No. 1 draft pick Tony Sanchez is the heir apparent. One of the things he's working on in the minor leagues is his throwing, which has been a concern. Sanchez will probably hit more than Martin, but he may never match Martin's skills behind the plate.
Martin hits free agency this offseason in an enviable position. He'll probably seek three years and in excess of $30 million, and he should be able to get it. Martin made no secret when he signed with the Pirates that his goal was to get his career back on track and hit the jackpot with one more big contract.
Here's the problem for the Pirates: Martin turns 32 in February. That's the age when a lot of players start to show a decline. It's even more profound for catchers, who take a beating and get worn out from the physical demands of the position.
Right fielders eat sunflower seeds between pitches. Catchers think about what pitch to call next while they're keeping an eye on the pitcher's mechanics and trying to guess if the runner at first will take off. Add those constant mental gymnastics to the physical burden, and it's easy to see why catchers tend to age quickly.
Johnny Bench was moved to third base when he was 33. Ted Simmons never caught more than 15 games in a year after 33.
Martin would probably be fine for one more season, but he will understandably look for a multi-year commitment. Some team will offer that. It won't be the Pirates.
More Bradshaw drama
Terry Bradshaw's relationship with his Steelers years has been a soap opera for decades. It took another plot turn when he no-showed the Chuck Noll memorial services.
His absence saddened some people associated with the Super Bowl years and infuriated others. Bradshaw was in the area at the time of Noll's passing, performing his one-man show.
Mehno can be reached at email@example.com