Goodbye, Russell Martin.
So long and farewell to our beloved Canadian backstop. His first two years in Toronto were much like his tenures in Los Angeles, New York, and Pittsburgh. He provided stability for his pitching staff, played solid defense, and was a reliable mid to bottom of the order bat. Most importantly, he helped the Blue Jays to two playoff appearances and reinvigorated Toronto’s, and Canada’s, love of baseball. For those two years, he continued to be an elite catcher, which is more than Toronto has enjoyed at the position for many years.
Let’s conveniently forget 2017 and 2018, ok? His appearances at third base and shortstop (not to mention his managerial debut) were entertaining, and his clubhouse presence on progressively younger teams was apparently stellar, but he played like a husk of his former self those two seasons. I won’t let the last two years diminish my memories of Russell Martin as a Blue Jay. I think most of Toronto feels the same way.
In exchange for Russell Martin, coming Toronto’s way from the Dodgers are two prospects that Ross Atkins described as “basically two low-impact lottery tickets.” Andrew Sopko is a 24-year-old starting pitcher who hasn’t played above AA. Last year, he split time between High A and AA, tallying a combined ERA of 3.52 over 117.2 innings pitched in 26 games. He struck out 121 batters over that span, and had a K/9 of 9.3 to go along with a BB/9 of 2.1. Sopko is a control pitcher with command of a mid-90s fastball and a low-80s slider. His curveball and changeup are below average, but he can keep hitters off balance with good location and an ability to change speed. If he makes it to the majors, it’ll likely be as a middle reliever or spot starter, or, less likely, as a bottom of the rotation starter. He’s already been assigned to the Bisons where he’ll likely be in the rotation and add to Toronto’s pitching depth this year.
The Blue Jays also received a 19-year-old middle infielder named Ronny Brito. Brito looks to have far more upside than Sopko, and could be an impact player for the Blue Jays a few years down the line. He has only played at the Rookie League and Dominican Summer League levels, but has displayed fine offensive abilities, slashing .295/.359/.496 over 262 plate appearances last year. Based on Kyle Glaser’s Baseball America entry, Brito has shown good power, with 11 home runs and an .841 OPS last year, but needs to work on his plate discipline and pitch recognition. He projects as a plus defender at shortstop, but he’s also logged innings at second and third.
Russell Martin is now back with the Dodgers (along with the better part of $20 million), and the Blue Jays got two rolls of the prospect dice. I think a realistic expectation may be that Sopko gets added to the Blue Jays bullpen at some point this year and rides the Toronto/Buffalo shuttle for the next few years until he’s out of options, and that Ronny Brito makes it to the majors three or four years from now. It’s perhaps not the most inspiring haul for a catcher the likes of Russell Martin, but I think we can only look back fondly on his time spent in Toronto. It looks like the Blue Jays may have gotten the last two serviceable years from one of the game’s greatest backstops. I’m glad the Blue Jays found a trade partner for him, and that the Jays got some young players in return. Russell will be seeing plenty of game action with the Dodgers, which he otherwise would not see in Toronto, and the Blue Jays got to add more depth and potential to the minor league ranks.
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