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Russell Martin is Coming Home to the Blue Jays

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Welcome home, Russell Martin.

The deal has yet to be made official, but Peter Gammons broke the story and Ken Rosenthal later reported earlier today the Toronto Blue Jays signed free agent catcher Russell Martin to a five-year/$82 million dollar contract.

If all in fact goes according to plan, what a deal for the Blue Jays.


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And by deal, I don’t mean “bargain”; at $82 million dollars, it’s a hefty price to pay for a 31-year old catcher. If the contract is broken down in equal installments, then Martin would make just over $16 million dollars for the next five seasons.

The Russell Martin deal is symbolic that the Toronto Blue Jays are serious about being a contender in 2015. And by signing one of the biggest names on the free agent market, the team just took a huge step forward towards that goal.

Sportsnet’s Michael Grange noted a move like this is very uncharacteristic of the modern day Toronto Blue Jays.

To his credit, Alex Anthopoulos has made big moves the past few years, but in regards to free agent signings, nothing of this magnitude. Anthopoulos’ M.O. has been all value deals, or signing players to cost-effective contract extensions; not making big splashes when it comes to free agents.

Paying market value for a free agent like Russell Martin deal changes all of that. Just over two years after blockbuster trades made by the club, perhaps this is the next culture shift for the Toronto Blue Jays.

Aside from the trade with the Miami Marlins, if there’s one
thing Alex Anthopoulos has been guilty of during his tenure, it’s his
conservative tendencies. He never really dipped into the free agent
pool, almost seeming adverse for paying market value for any given
player.

If the Blue Jays wanted to contend, at some point they needed to take a leap of faith and likely overpay to bring a big name free agent to play for Toronto. That player is now Russell Martin.

However, this is hardly the first time the Blue Jays front office opened up the vault and spent on free agents. The last spending spree came in late 2005 when J.P. Ricciardi inked B.J. Ryan to a five-year/$47 million dollar contract, and A.J. Burnett to a five-year/$55 million dollar deal.

True to his word, Anthopoulos stated last week that the Blue Jays wanted to get “the best player available“, and signing Russell Martin does precisely that.


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It’s still early in the offseason, but this is the first big move by the Toronto Blue Jays, and likely the precursor for a few more. There are still areas on the diamond in which they can improve, but for the moment the catcher position is the least of their worries.

$82 million dollars sounds like a steep price to pay for Russell Martin, but it’s one the Blue Jays were obviously willing to pay to bring in arguably the best free agent position player north of the border.

After the Blue Jays trimmed some of their 2015 payroll (to the tune of
$17.5 million dollars), that seems to be the money earmarked for Russell Martin. The payroll flexibility was definitely there, and the Blue Jays wisely chose to reinvest in the roster by spending rather than saving.

The closest comparable is Brian McCann’s five-year/$85 million dollar
contract with the New York Yankees. After year one of that deal, many in
New York are left wondering if inking McCann was a wise idea or not.

In regards to Russell Martin’s health long-term, that definitely can be a concern. He’s entering his age 32 season and would be 36 at the end of his contract. Catchers typically don’t age very well, but I highly doubt Martin would still be starting behind the plate in the latter years of the contract.

Even if Martin slightly regresses next year at the plate, moving to a hitter-friendly park like the Rogers Centre will hopefully negate any drop-off in offensive production. And even if the Blue Jays get barely any offensive production from Martin, his defensive abilities still make him a tremendous asset.


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It’s a little silly to be worried about how Russell Martin will perform in the latter years of this contract because the Blue Jays’ window for contention may have already closed at that point. Who’s to say franchise pillars like Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion will still be in Toronto beyond 2016?

The time for the Blue Jays is right now, and Russell Martin makes them better right now … and in so many different aspects.

Martin brings elite offense, defense, framing and throwing for a catcher; something which has been severely lacking behind the plate for the Blue Jays for several years.

Then when you factor in things like intangibles, people absolutely gush about Russell Martin. Judging from reports in recent seasons, the Blue Jays’ clubhouse has been in disarray. Martin not only brings a wealth of postseason experience, but his reputation precedes him.

If any of the other reports are to be believed, the Jays may not even be finished in their pursuit of big name free agents. But signing Russell Martin is a big coup for the
Toronto Blue Jays and a positive sign for things to come for this
organization.

Image courtesy of Getty Images

Ian has been writing about the Toronto Blue Jays since 2007. He enjoyed the tail-end of the Roy Halladay era and vividly remembers the Alex Rodriguez "mine" incident. He'll also retell the story of Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS to his kids for the next 20 years.


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