Letters of Intent
By Andrew Hendriks
The Toronto Blue Jays continued their torrid start to the 2014-15 off-season on Monday, signing catcher, Russell Martin, 31, to a five-year, $82M contract.
Martin, who was born in Toronto and raised in Montreal, represents not only the most significant free-agent signing of the Alex Anthopoulos era, but also, in terms of contract length and dollar value, the second highest single player deal in club history, following Vernon Wells seven-year, $126M in 2006.
This wasn’t the first time the Blue Jays and Martin have talked shop.
In 2010, talks between the two parties broke down following the Blue Jays decision to commit to J.P. Arencibia as the clubs primary catcher. Martin, who was offered a job as the Arencibia’s backup, declined the assignment, opting to sign with the New York Yankees where he could be assured a starting role and a two-year, $11.5M contract.
But that was then.
Simply put, the signing nets Toronto a proven veteran presence. One with nine years of service time, two all-star appearances and the honor of being called one of the best game-callers in professional baseball.
With the Blue Jays organization at a pivotal point in regards to it’s deep core of young pitching talent as Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Drew Hutchison tapped to play key roles with ]Toronto in the future, Martin’s arrival is welcomed with open arms as the former Dodgers/Yankees/Pirates catcher looks to continue to building on his outstanding reputation of being able to get the most out of his battery-mates.
Case in point, Edinson Volquez, Francisco Liriano and A.J. Burnett, three pitchers who bounced back from questionable seasons en-route to helping the Pirates reach the playoffs while working with Martin over various points during past two campaigns in Pittsburgh.
Adding to his value behind the dish, Martin ranked third in the majors in extra strikes called thanks to his outstanding pitch-framing abilities in 2014, leaving many captivated by the potential effect he could bring to this starting staff moving forward.
Breaking in with the Dodgers in 2006, Martin has also proved to be a consistent threat at the plate, slashing .259/.354/.399 over 1163 games at the major league level.
Coming off a season that saw the former 17th round draft pick establish new career highs in batting average (.290) and on base percentage (.402), the Blue Jays are hoping that the switch back to the American League (along with the hitter-friendly confines of Rogers Centre will translate into continued success with the stick.
With leadership emerging as one of the top subjects in question over the past couple of seasons of Blue Jays baseball, Anthopoulos hopes that with Martin, he’s found an on-field general as well as a reassuring force within the clubhouse.
Of course, Martins reputation, not to mention the fact that he’s been to the playoffs seven times, four of which have come in the past four seasons, should help build a case for exactly the type of leadership the Blue Jays GM is hoping to add.
As for Dioner Navarro, who, appearing as the primary catcher in 2014, got in to 139 games with Toronto, Martin’s signing likely indicates a move to the DH slot in the Blue Jays lineup following Adam Lind’s trade to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Of course, Navarro, who is owed $5M next season, can retain his value making the occasional start as the backup catcher with the ability to fill in for Martin should he get injured at any point during the 2015 campaign.
Then again, there’s always the potential for a possible trade should the team decide to use the valuable catcher in order to acquire another player with intentions of addressing other club needs this off-season.
Time will tell.
Canuck count: It’s interesting to note that should the trio of Dalton Pompey, Brett Lawrie and Martin remain healthy and in Toronto’s plans when grapefruit league camp breaks at the beginning of April, we could see the first time in Blue Jays history in which the club has fielded a lineup with three Canadian-born position players in the mix, similar to the time when Joe Siddal caught Denis Boucher while Larry Walker patrolled right field for the Expos at Olympic Stadium.
As for the future, Martin, who is owed a healthy chunk of dollars over the next five seasons could likely make the shift from behind the plate to DH-first bThe ase as age may begin to catch up with him … Or prospects, Max Pentecost and A.J. Jimenez begin to force the issue.
-Follow Andrew Hendriks on Twitter (@77hendriks)