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Zero hour approaches on the Dodgers' toughest off-season call -- Russell Martin

December 2, 2010 | 12:07 pm

And now for the Dodgers’ toughest off-season call:

What to do about Russell Martin.

By 9 p.m. Thursday, they have to decide whether to tender him a contract. If not, he becomes a free agent.

There may not be a clearly correct decision here, but at the moment there is no way the Dodgers can be certain that Martin can recover from his hip injury to become a full-time catcher. It’s an unpleasant choice but the prudent one: If somehow they can’t sign or trade Martin before the deadline, they need to let him go.

If the team comes to a last-minute agreement with Martin, the lowest figure it can re-sign him for off his $5.05 million from last season is slightly over $4 million.

For $4 million and one year, the Dodgers can take the chance. He is only 27, and even though his production has fallen off the past two seasons, it’s still sadly reasonable for a catcher.

A one-year deal with some incentives and he can come back hungry and motivated. But if they go to arbitration, Martin would probably get over $6 mil, which is getting to be a pretty serious gamble.

They could try to deal him, and apparently the Red Sox have some interest, which would certainly be better than getting nothing in return. General Manager Ned Colletti managed to get a serviceable arm for Ryan Theriot, so it’s unlikely he’d settle for getting nothing in return for Martin.

Yet even if Colletti does re-sign Martin, that hardly settles the Dodgers’ catching situation. They simply cannot count on Martin being an everyday catcher, so they still have to try to sign a Rod Barajas or Miguel Olivo. Unless they’re really prepared to start A.J. Ellis, which given his strong finish, at least has to be a consideration.

The team's other arbitration decisions are simple. Reliever George Sherrill will not be tendered a contract. Chad Billlingsley, James Loney and Hong-Chih Kuo will.

Martin’s declining production at the plate and behind it, have made it easy for some to want him gone, but this might be a be-careful-what-you-wish-for scenario.

Productive, reliable catchers are hard to come by, and he’s still young enough to take a reasonable chance on. And defining reasonable is what they’re working on.

-- Steve Dilbeck