There is a new rumor circulating this morning that appears to come out of left field…err, catcher. According to Sportsnets’ Jeff Blair, the Toronto Blue Jays have had internal conversations about signing free agent catcher Russell Martin.
I repeat that…Russell Martin.
The reason this is especially interesting is that the Blue Jays already have a starting catcher under contract and all signs would seem to indicate that they were very happy with what they got out of Dioner Navarro in 2014. Toronto took a chance and handed a full-time role to a career back-up and were repayed for their boldness when Navarro posted a 2-win season while slashing .274/.317/.395 with 12 home runs and 69 RBI.
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However, Navarro created some mixed feelings about his work behind the plate, which is perhaps why the Blue Jays are interested in Russell Martin. In two years with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Martin made the Yankees pay for letting him walk, posting 4.1 wins and 5.3 wins in 2013 and 2014 respectively.
While Martin posted a solid season at the plate in 2014, slashing .290/.402/.430 with 11 home runs and 67 RBI for the Pirates, it was his defensive work that will earn him his next contract on the free agent market. Martin is well-regarded for his ability to handle a pitching staff, and his work behind the plate. Over the last two seasons, Martin has been worth 28 Defensive Runs Saved Above Average according to FanGraphs, which is outstanding.
But outside of upgrade, bringing in Martin is a bit of a head-scratcher, especially considering the Blue Jays other needs this offseason. Given that Martin is the only available catcher on the market worth starting, he stands to command a big deal from those teams with a hole to fill. He’s also guaranteed to be extended a qualifying offer, meaning that any team that inks Martin will surrender a draft pick to the Pirates.
Additionally, there is also the quandary of what to do with the current crop of Blue Jays catchers. Navarro and Martin could obviously split duties between catcher and designated hitter, with Martin getting most of the reps behind the plate. That hole was opened up when the team dealt Adam Lind earlier this week. Meanwhile, Toronto would also need to find a new home for Josh Thole, who is primarily kept around only to handle R.A. Dickey and the knuckleball, and had his option exercised over the weekend.
While Russell Martin would certainly be an entertain-able luxury to pursue, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the grand scheme of what the Blue Jays want to accomplish this winter. But then again, the big picture still seems to be held behind a cloud of questions over the moves that were already made.