Earlier this week, we learned that the Toronto Blue Jays were having internal discussions about the possibility of signing free agent catcher Russell Martin. At the time they seemed a little bit far-fetched in that the Blue Jays already had a servicable catcher and had other pressing needs to spend the money on, but according to the latest news it appears the talks are moving past internal discussions.
According to Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago, Martin met with the Chicago Cubs on Thursday and has at least three other teams currently scheduled for visits. Among those teams are the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Pittsburgh Pirates (Martin’s team over the last two seasons), and your Toronto Blue Jays.
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As Levine points out, Martin will be looking for a deal in the range of the 5-year, $75 million deal that Brian McCann received from the Yankees last winter. However, Martin’s catching company on the free agent market is extremely thin and lacks a viable starter outside of the former Pirates signal-caller. That could push his asking price into the 6-year range and approach $90 million.
That would likely put the Dodgers and Cubs into the drivers seat, two teams with deep pockets that would absolutely covet adding a catcher who put up a 5.2 win season with a .290/.402/.430 slash, 11 home runs, and 67 RBI. The Cubs, given their depth of youth, could easily stomach a sixth year without hampering their long-term plans with an albatross contract.
For the Toronto Blue Jays, who also have holes to fill in the infield, bullpen, and outfield, adding a catcher is a bit of a luxury. That means the chances of the team going all out on a big-money deal for Russell Martin is slim. While Martin would be a positive addition to a team that needs better pitch-framing and has been rumored to struggle with clubhouse demeanor, the other needs far outweigh the demand in this case.
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Toronto also has incumbent catcher Dioner Navarro under contract for 2015. While Navarro ranked 99th in baseball in pitch framing according to Baseball Prospectus, he was generally regarded as a positive for the team in his first full-time duty since 2009. His bat carried a lot of that, as his .274/.317/.395 slash-line with 12 home runs and 69 RBI were a tremendous improvement on J.P. Arencibia‘s dismal season the year prior.
If for some reason the Blue Jays were to acquire Russell Martin, the plan appears to be to slide Navarro into the back-up role while also providing his primary at-bats in the Designated Hitter slot, which became open when the Blue Jays traded Adam Lind earlier this month. Navarro did appear in 21 games as a DH in 2014, hitting .301/.354/.411 with 5 doubles, a single home run, and 8 RBI in just 79 plate appearances. He lacks the power component you prefer in a bat-only player, but it isn’t an entirely unfeasible option either.
Still, given the scope of a Russell Martin contract and the competition for his services, the chances remain slim. Toronto would be better focusing its attention on the markets it needs to pursue in order to plug holes.