russel mar

Mark Hebscher

(ISN) – Despite the protestations of many Bluejays fans, this was a welcome move. Signing a catcher, and a very good one at that, was a higher priority for the Bluejays than we thought. Let’s face it, they haven’t had a good one for a long time. Now they have a former Gold Glover who will help the young pitching staff to reach it’s potential.

Russell Martin is just what the doctor ordered. With apologies to Melky Cabrera and any other Free Agent the Jays were hoping to sign, it’s all about strength up the middle and that starts with a solid catcher. Dioner Navarro was barely passable behind the plate, but we overlooked his shortcomings because he wielded a pretty good bat from both sides of the plate. But he’s a backup catcher who can’t be counted on for more than 100 games. Before Navarro there was the infamous J.P. Arencibia. Prior to that, John Buck, Rod Barajas, Gregg Zaun, Bengie Molina and Ken Huckaby toiled behind the plate. Darrin Fletcher was pretty good for a few years, and before that it was Pat Borders, who caught those 1992 and 1993 championship seasons. What I’m trying to say here is that a good catcher can win you a lot of ballgames. Especially a catcher who has been to the postseason as many times as Martin. Make no mistake, when a team acquires a new player and that team goes on to the playoffs the following year, you have to wonder if the new acquisition had much to do with the team’s success. When it’s a catcher, like Martin, you can definitely take it to the bank. He went to the Yankees as a Free Agent in 2011 and helped them get to the postseason. In 2012 he did the same thing. He declared Free Agency and signed for two years with the Pirates and led them to the playoffs in 2013 and ’14.

You want more? Martin is considered one of the best “framers” in the game, alongside the great Yadier Molina. He regularly throws out more baserunners than any other catcher in all of baseball. He’s done it three years in a row. He’s wonderful with young pitchers, having tutored the likes of Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley Ivan Nova, Phil Hughes, Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke. And he’s healthy, which says a lot. He’s only caught 1121 games in the big leagues, which leads one to suggest, barring injury, that he could catch 1700 games, similar to AJ Pierzynski. That’s 5 years of catching averaging about 120 games a year. That’s certainly doable. And, if you look at the most successful teams in baseball, they all have solid catching. Buster Posey, Molina, Sal Perez of the KC Royals, Matt Wieters of Baltimore, Carlos Ruiz of Philly, those guys are good. And let’s face it, when a potential Free Agent is shopping for a team, what are the priorities? Salary, of course. Term, of course. But also, who’s on the roster? Do they have good players? Do they have a clubhouse that I’ll fit into? Even though Martin signed a 5 year deal, it’s the first three years that’ll determine whether this was a good signing or not. If Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Drew Hutchison and any of the other youngsters the Jays have are going to improve, they’ll need one of the best catchers in baseball behind the plate. A guy who has been there before. A guy who can not only call a good game, but knows the players around the league and knows how to neutralize the opposition’s running game.

The only downside to the deal, according to some, is the fact that Russell Martin refused to play catcher for Canada at the 2012 World Baseball Classic. That prompted the likes of Brett Lawrie and Justin Morneau to criticize Martin, who said he wanted to play shortstop for Team Canada instead of catcher. Catching, he said, would be difficult because he would’ve had to learn a whole new pitching staff, and he had just signed with the Pirates, whose pitching staff he hadn’t gotten to know yet. Anyway, let’s hope that Lawrie and others who still hold a grudge against Martin can let bygones be bygones. I’m not going to quote numbers here. Martin is a solid hitter with a fair bit of power and he doesn’t strike out much. If the Jays can’t re-sign Cabrera, Martin is an ideal number 2 hitter. And now that Navarro has lost his job as the starting catcher, perhaps the Jays can trade him along with J.A. Happ and get something in return. Perhaps an outfielder. At the very least, expect the Jays to be active in the Free Agent market, targeting perhaps Baltimore’s Nick Markakis, a former Gold Glover just like Russell Martin. It’s going to be a long off-season for the Jays, but come February, they just might have the most talent in the American League East. And that had better translate to a playoff spot or else folks will be pointing the finger of blame at the General Manager, and the guy he almost broke the bank to sign.