The Toronto Blue Jays returned to free agency in significant fashion by agreeing to terms with Canadian catcher Russell Martin on an $82-million, five-year deal, a bold stroke aimed at strengthening the club up the middle and in the clubhouse.
Martin’s deal, initially reported by Peter Gammons and confirmed to Sportsnet by a source, is the second largest in club history, trailing only the $126-million, seven-year extension handed to Vernon Wells after the 2006 season.
It is by far the largest free-agent contract handed out by GM Alex Anthopoulos, dwarfing the previous high of $16 million over two years handed to Melky Cabrera in November 2012, and is the most significant commitment since A.J. Burnett was given $55 million over five years in December 2005.
Martin, 31, is expected to give the Blue Jays a significant boost behind the plate through his excellent handling of pitchers and pitch-framing.
“When you have a strong defensive catcher it makes your 12 pitchers better, there’s no question about that,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said last week at the GM meetings. “We’ve certainly experienced that over the last two years with Russ.”
Martin can also add value at the plate. He played in 111 games for the Pirates in 2014, batting .290/.402/.430 with 11 home runs and 20 doubles.
The leadership element is another reason why Martin was targeted, as he has consistently played on winning teams. He’s been to the post-season seven times in nine big-league seasons and his reputation as a winner will certainly help improve a club culture hampered by being playoff-free since 1993.
All of that is why the Blue Jays anted up in such a big way for Martin when they already had Dioner Navarro at catcher plus significant holes in left field, at second or third base and the bullpen.
At the GM meetings last week, Anthopoulos hinted that he wouldn’t be afraid to bring in some duplication.
“After trading (Adam) Lind, there are a lot of things we can do at DH,” Anthopoulos said. “We can go get a first baseman and DH (Edwin) Encarnacion, we can play Encarnacion at first base and get a pure DH, we can get another position that might be redundant with another spot and rotate the DH through. … We’re going to try to take the best player available, and we’re not locked into one thing, like we need a defender at first base, we need a pure DH. It depends on what becomes available to us.”
The Blue Jays will be open to moving Navarro but with the open DH spot, he could be the answer there, too. Anthopoulos worked to create the flexibility for his team by dealing Lind, and now he continues to have it as he could possibly package Navarro and J.A. Happ to address his team’s other needs.
The biggest Blue Jays contracts
- Vernon Wells ($126 million, seven years)
- Russell Martin ($82 million, five years)
- Alex Rios ($69.835 million, seven years)
- Carlos Delgado ($68 million, four years)
- Jose Bautista ($65 million, five years)