Well, here I was thinking that the offseason would putter along quietly with Alex Anthopoulos giving us the whole “we don’t have a spending cap” excuse while arguing that there weren’t any deals out there that made sense.
In the past, Anthopoulos’s steadfast commitment to the five-year limit on contract lengths and refusal to overpay for free agents has kept them out of the free agent market but he wasn’t afraid to take on salary in the form of trades (and the massive contracts that are still owed to Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle).
For the first time since he became the GM of the Toronto Blue Jays, however, Alex Anthopoulos has waded into the free agent waters and the Blue Jays are expected to sign catcher Russell Martin to a five-year deal worth $82 million pending the completion of a physical. The average annual value of $16.4 million that Martin will make him the third-highest paid player on the team (barring further moves), behind both Reyes ($22 million) and Buehrle ($19 million) but he’s still going to be paid more than the teams’ best two players, Jose Bautista ($14 million) and Edwin Encarnacion ($10 million).
Who are the Jays getting with Martin? They’re getting a Canadian player who is widely considered to be one of the best defensive catchers in baseball who had a career season with the bat in 2014 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and is heading into his Age-32 season with nine years of ML baseball already under his belt. I think that most people think that this is a potential for worry, seeing as catchers take the most physical abuse on the ball field and giving a 32-year-old catcher a five-year deal is likely to provide fewer benefits on the back end of the deal than a five-year deal to a first baseman or left fielder of the same age.
Martin started his career with some excellent numbers for a catcher, hitting .272/.365/.396 with 28 home runs over five seasons with the L.A. Dodgers before moving on to the New York Yankees for two years in 2011 and 2012. Starting in 2007 (his second year) and 2012, his batting average and on-base percentage were on a slide from .293/.374 all the way down to .211/.311. He rebounded with a .226/.327 mark before the .290/.402 marks in 2014 that became Martin’s all-time career high for on-base percentage.
Defensively, catching metrics all see Martin as a positive force and his caught stealing percentage has been consistently above league average at 32% (with league average at 27%). Whatever he does as a catcher for the Blue Jays will be vastly better than what the Jays have been getting from their catchers over J.P. Arencibia and Dioner Navarro eras.
And that brings us to what the Blue Jays will do with Dioner Navarro. The Blue Jays already have Josh Thole on the roster (and have picked up his option for 2015) and the $5 million tab on Navarro isn’t mammoth for the solid offensive season he provided. If the Jays keep Navarro as a backup catcher/DH, he could still be a productive contributor to the big league squad. Otherwise, he could also be used to bring back another piece to the Blue Jays (a reliever, perhaps?) while possibly opening up a couple of million in salary flexibility.
Either way, it’s going to be exciting to have a premium defensive catcher on the team and a Canadian one to boot. Martin’s bat has had its ups and downs, particularly linked to his batting average but he definitely has some power (119 career home runs with 21 in 2012 as a Yankee). Many people are also speculating that, due to Martin’s athleticism, he should hold up well into the later years of the contract, and Steve Simmons has tweeted that the Blue Jays intend to bat Martin second in the order, taking over what was Melky Cabrera’s lineup position in 2014. If that’s the case, do the Blue Jays feature a Canadian 1-2 in the order in 2015 with the possibility of Dalton Pompey leading off and Russell Martin batting behind him?
Who are these players? Find out in The 2014 Toronto Blue Jays Minor League Handbook, now available as an ebook at Smashwords.com for $7.99 US. It’s coming soon to Amazon, Apple iBooks, Kobo and other fine retailers. You can purchase and preview the book at our Smashwords.com page! If you like us here,“like” us on Facebook!
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