Russell Martin has $82 million reasons to smile.
by Drew Sarver
Few things these days can make my head explode. Having to hear about that family with the woman with the big ass. That’s more of a nagging headache actually. But things like what the Toronto Blue Jays did on Monday was definitely a “cranial cramper”.
Catcher Russell Martin, who played for the Pittsburgh Pirates the last two seasons, agreed to terms with the Toronto Blue Jays on a reported five-year, $82MM. (Even Linda Blair’s head would stop spinning after hearing about that contract.)
Except for the ability to hit the long ball, Martin had struggled at the plate for four straight seasons (2010-2013) and with three teams – the LA Dodgers, New York Yankees, and the Pirates. Martin’s OPS during that stretch ranged from a low of .679 to a high of .732.
With free agency pending, Martin had his best season at the plate in six years. A .290/.402/.430 slash line helped him finish 13th in the National League MVP voting. Defense and pitch calling has never been an issue for Martin, who threw out 39% of would-be base-stealers, second only to his personal best of 40% in 2013. It was also well above his career mark of 32%.
It all sounds good, right? Someone coming off a season like that and will be 32 when the 2015 season begins, should get a good contract. Maybe three years, $36MM. If you want to go five years you pay him $60MM. Apparently Blue Jays ownership and GM Alex Anthopoulos thought otherwise.
The deal falls just a few million dollars short of the five-year, $85MM deal the Yankees gave Brian McCann prior to last season. I thought that deal was a bad one too when it was announced, as in too much money and too many years. Once a catcher has passed 30, a five year contract is a big gamble.(McCann will be 31 when the 2015 season begins).
The Blue Jays know they have an opportunity to win the AL East or gain a wild card in 2015, and signing Martin was a smart move. An average salary in excess of $16MM makes no sense though. Blowing everyone out of the water to sign a player should only be done if you have a major shot at competing for the World Series and that player better be a damn good one.
Are the Blue Jays there? Let’s take a look at last year’s team and what the team is shaping up to be in 2015.
The Blue Jays offense is powered byright fielder Jose Bautista (35 HR, 103 RBI) and first baseman Edwin Encarnacion (34 HR, 98 RBI) and set up by shortstop Jose Reyes (94 runs, 30 steals, .328 OBP).
Outfielder Melky Cabrera is likely to leave as a free agent and third baseman Brett Lawrie’s young career has been marred by injury and inconsistency.
The starting rotation is not one that jumps out you. 2012 NL Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey is the ace of the staff (14-13, 3.71 215.2 IP) and manager John Gibbons will be counting on second year hurler Marcus Stroman, who didn’t receive any AL Rookie of the Year votes despite an 11-6, 3.65 record and a four to one strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
The rest of last year’s rotation was mediocre. Veteran Mark Buehrle won nine of his 10 decisions and allowed less than two and one-half runs per game. But his ERA was closer to six in July and August and dropped eight of nine decisions after his tremendous start.
J.A. Happ and Drew Hutchinson were no better than .500 pitchers, though Hutchinson presents a much bigger upside than Happ and was a year removed from Tommy John surgery.)
Antropolous made a good low risk/possibly high reward move by sending first baseman Adam Lind to the Milwaukee Brewers for starter Marco Estrada. While the 30-year old didn’t have the best 2014 season, he’s worth a shot to compete for a rotation spot. The Blue Jays are also said to be looking to sign one of the bigger name free agents (e.g. Jon Lester).
The bullpen needs improvement as well. Closer Casey Janssen isn’t your prototypical closer – he recorded just 28 strikeouts in 45.2 innings pitched and is a free agent. While Janssen kept his walk total down, the remainder of the pen struggled with their control.
Youngster Aaron Sanchez looked solid in relief in September – he saved three games – but Antropolous wants him in the starting rotation next season. As for a set up man/lefty specialist, the Blue Jays are also thought to be interested in free agent Andrew Miller. The reliever, who has averaged better than 14K’s per nine innings over the last four seasons, is said to be seeking closer money. Considering the money the Blue Jays gave Martin, it’s not out of the question for them to go overboard with a contract offer to Miller.
So what have we gleaned from this? The Blue Jays have a pretty nucleus and are looking to strengthen their weaknesses. Which means they probably should have spent money on the bigger fixes to the team before doling out money, crazy money at that, for a catcher.
Drew Sarver is the founder, publisher, managing editor, and a contributor for Designated For Assignment. He can be followed on twitter at @mypinstripes and @d4assignment or contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.