The Toronto Blue Jays officially lit the Hot Stove on Monday morning when they came to terms on an agreement with free agent catcher Russell Martin. On Tuesday, the team officially announced the deal with Martin but did so without completely announcing the terms of the deal aside from confirming that the total package was $82 million over five years.
Leave it to our friendly baseball pundits, namely Jon Heyman, to find out the exact details.
Yes, you are reading that right. The deal is in fact back-loaded slightly, meaning that the Blue Jays will be paying $20 million a year over the last three years of the deal when the now 31-year-old catcher will be playing years 33-35. While that is a it of a gamble on a guy who garners the majority of his value due to his work behind the plate, there is a bigger picture here.
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This contract gives the Blue Jays flexibility to add on more money in the short-term, and that is a good thing.
Getting Martin to agree to a deal that pays him just $7 million in 2015, and even to a degree $15 million in 2016, gives Toronto some much needed cushion in which to address other needs on the organization without adding significant amounts of payroll in 2015. Given that we’re talking about a team that has bypassed trade deadline deals and significant signings because of bad contracts taken on with Jose Reyes and Mark Buehrle, flexibility is something they badly needed.
The team could further add to that flexibility by finding a new home for incumbent catcher Dioner Navarro, who is on the books for $5 million in 2015. Given the level of pursuit for Martin and the lack of impact catching on the market, the Blue Jays should have no issue finding a taker should they wish to move him. As reported by Ken Rosenthal (via Twitter), Toronto is already drawing interest in Navarro who was a solid starter for the Blue Jays last season. If Toronto chooses not to move him, he could become a $5 million gamble at DH.
If the Blue Jays were able to move Navarro and find a new home for starter J.A. Happ, both of which should be very feasible given the relatively friendly contracts they have, Toronto could save an additional $11 million off of what looks to be a $127 million payroll right now (h/t Ben Nicholson-Smith). That’s $11 million the Blue Jays could add to the $10 million they still have to spend before hitting their 2014 payroll, giving them a bit more cushion with which to find the bullpen arms, left fielder, and second baseman the team still needs.
As for the worry on a back-loaded deal, the stress of that number becomes a little easier to bear after the 2015 season. Mark Buehrle and his $19 million salary will come off the payroll after this season. Additionally, Toronto could choose to not exercise the $12 million option they hold on R.A. Dickey after this season, saving another $11 million ($1 million buy-out).
Make no mistakes about it. The structure of this deal was all about getting value to make a run in 2015. To do that, Alex Anthopoulos and his team needed to get creative and that is exactly what they’ve done thus far. This indicates that they are far from done.