Russell Martin was in Toronto this yesterday and dropped an interesting soundbite regarding an issue that has been polarizing since the day the club signed him. Should the backstop catch the ever-elusive R.A Dickey on a regular basis or should the club continue with personal catcher Josh Thole?
To this Martin was clear. He wants to catch anyone and everyone on the Toronto Blue Jays pitching staff. While he understands that catching a knuckle-baller is much different and utterly more chaotic, he’s willing to work with Dickey to be an everyday, every pitcher catcher this season.
“If I’m not good at it when I first try, I’ll work until I am good at it,” Martin told reporters Saturday afternoon.
While his work ethic thus far has certainly been admirable, maybe this isn’t such a good idea. Let’s face it, Martin won’t be able to catch all 162 games next season. That’s inevitable. In 2008, in a Dodgers uniform, Martin caught 149 games, but that was seven years ago. Over the past three seasons, the backstop has averaged 124 games behind the plate.
Jul 18, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcherR.A. Dickey
(43) and Toronto Blue Jays catcherJosh Thole
(22) with Toronto Blue Jays pitching coachPete Walker
(40) walk onto the field at the start of a game against the Texas Rangers at Rogers Centre.The Texas Rangers won 5-1. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Doing the math, if Martin sacrifices himself every-time Dickey makes a start, one in every five games, Martin will miss approximately 32 games over the course of the season. That would put his game total at 130 games, right within the range of his past seasons. Given that Thole has more experience with the tricky knuckle-ball, maybe it’s a good idea to let him receive it, allowing Martin to develop a niche within the regular throwing pitchers on the Jays staff.
In contrast, maybe it’s not such a good idea. With Josh Thole essentially playing the role of caddy for Dickey since his Cy Young title, it might be a better idea for Martin to learn to catch Dickey to produce a more valuable lineup with a stronger backup in Dioner Navarro.
As it stands, Navarro is set to become the 2015 designated hitter/backup catcher for the refurbished club. Using Navarro when Martin needs a game off would certainly be worth a lot more to the Jays if Martin is able to familiarize himself with Dickey’s knuckler. The way Navarro worked with Mark Buehrle last season, it may actually be an productive option.
Of course, this all hinges on the idea that Martin can learn the pitch. If he can, there’s no reason to keep Thole in the majors, all but wasting a spot on the 25-man roster. With weeks remaining before pitchers and catchers report for spring training, it’s hard to tell what direction Jays management will go with the decision.
For now, it’s a pleasant sign from Martin regarding catching the knuckle-ball. Like all things, he’s willing to work at it.