With all of Toronto’s glaring offseason needs in the bullpen, at third and second base, and potentially in the outfield, an upgrade behind the plate didn’t seem like a necessary spot to fill. However, $82 million later, the Blue Jays introduced their new starting catcher, Russell Martin.
Born in Toronto and raised in Montreal, 31-year-old Martin inked the second-largest contract in franchise history – his third free-agent deal – which will see him wearing his hometown jersey for five years.
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Five years and $82 million. What was it that Melky Cabrera wants to stay with this budget-conscious organization again? Well, we will get to that later.
In Russell Martin’s nine seasons in the majors, his teams have seen postseason ball seven times – three times with the Dodgers, two times with the Yankees and the past two seasons with the Pirates. He is heading north with a solid 2014 under his belt. He ended his season with 110 hits, 11 home runs, a .290BA and .402OBP, not to mention his defense continued to shine; Martin has sometimes been referred to as a “sniper” when it comes to base stealers attempting to out-run his arm.
However, these offense numbers and his ability to call games are not what GM Alex Anthopoulos and skipper John Gibbons are shining the light on. They see Russell Martin’s leadership qualities as a big game-changer next year. Gibbons recently alluded that the club has not been a close-knit unit off the field as of late. Removing players with less than desirable attitudes, such as Colby Rasmus and Anthony Gose, and adding a new face in Martin, who former teammates have credited as impossible not to like, will hopefully bring an effective and lasting comradery that will spark something on the field. Actually, Martin has already made an impact in changing hearts in the clubhouse. Fellow Canadian Brett Lawrie called his new teammate’s attitude “weak” and “annoying” in 2013 when Martin pulled out of the World Baseball Classic when his request to play shortstop was denied. However, earlier this week when the news was breaking of Russell Martin’s deal, Lawrie stated Martin would be a great leader for the squad.
Now, back to what this means for keeping Cabrera.
When you play on the Canadian heartstrings, and add Russell Martin’s defensive stats and his positive influence on young pitchers Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison and Aaron Sanchez, the signing is great news to Jays fans. Yet, it was also a decision not based on the team’s priority needs this offseason — a decision that most likely blew Anthopoulos’ budget and, for skeptics, the chances of breaking the 21-year postseason drought in Toronto. With the Martin deal done, the Blue Jays are effectively taking one step forward and one step back with rumors swirling that the organization will now not be able to compete for Cabrera – an essential piece to the Blue Jays postseason puzzle – or any other all-star calibre outfielder on the market for that matter.
This on top of the fact Anthopoulos is heading into December with question marks at second base, and with Lawrie’s injury track record, probably third, too, for a decent chunk of next season. Also, there are only two arms – Brett Cecil and Aaron Loup – locked into the bullpen for 2015. The Jays have been linked to interest in lefty Andrew Miller, who could be the late-inning arm the club desperately needs, but again, the bidding for him is expected to be aggressive.
One of the ways Anthopoulos could work around this would be to wrap up a package consisting of former starting catcher Dioner Navarro, who apparently asked for a trade when the Russell Martin signing was announced, and pitcher J.A. Happ, who in all likelihood will be losing his starting job to Sanchez. Happ could take a relief gig, but we all know how he feels about that. To save the club the trouble and some money, dealing the duo to potential suitors, the Rays, Dodgers or Rangers to name a few, would free-up almost $12 million – probably still not enough to hang onto Cabrera.