Russell Martin is one of the top all around catchers in Major League Baseball, and he has a chance to be even better in the 2017 season.
When the Toronto Blue Jays signed veteran backstop Russell Martin to a five-year, $82 million deal back in November of 2014, he was coming off arguably the best offensive season of his major league career. I believe we can expect him to put up those type of offensive numbers once again in this upcoming campaign.
During the 2014 regular season, the year before the Blue Jays signed Martin, the Canadian catcher caught in 107 games. That was the was the second fewest games caught of his eleven-year career. Martin was placed on the disabled list due to a left hamstring strain early in the year and when he came back, he was terrific, leading himself to a 13th place rank in National League MVP voting. That season, the Pirates had a very capable backup backstop in Chris Stewart which gave Clint Hurdle, the Pirates manager, a solid option when Russell needed a breather.
Since Martin arrived in Toronto, he has had a massive workload, especially last season as he caught in 127 games (Not including postseason play). Out of all American League catchers, Martin caught just one game less than the Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez, for the second most in the AL.
The Blue Jays did not have a capable backup catcher last season, as Josh Thole, who was the backup for most of the year, struggled mightily, hitting .169/.254/.220 with one home run and seven runs batted in. Later in the season, the Blue Jays tried to solve that issue by re-acquiring Dioner Navarro, but that also did not work out too well.
Martin was worn out by the end of the season and that certainly showed in his performance down the stretch as he hit .161/.315/.310 with four home runs in the month of September. He performed even worse in postseason play as the wear and tear of a long season took a toll on his body. After the Blue Jays were eliminated from the postseason contention, he expressed how he was feeling when he said, “It was that I was catching hurt.” He did not have much of a choice but to catch hurt. He was the only viable option.
"“It was that I was catching hurt.”"
Unless an injury occurs, Jarrod Saltalamacchia will be the backup catcher for Toronto, as he signed a minor league contract with a $1.25 million base salary, plus incentives if he’s on the MLB roster. He provides the Blue Jays the ability to switch hit, be a serious power threat, and call a solid game from behind home plate. In the past, “Salty” has saw time in both a starters role and a backup role. He is the strong backup catcher that the Blue Jays have badly needed in order to keep Russell Martin fresh.
Saltalamacchia will get his fair share of starts behind the plate, whether it is a day game after a night game, a very tough right-hander on the mound, or just a regular weekday game. Last season, even if Martin was not in the lineup to start the game, he often found his way into the game. Now with Saltalamacia on the team, that should not be an issue and Martin will get a full day off.
The Blue Jays have a playoff caliber team, and they will have a better chance to succeed late in the season with a well rested Russell Martin. Having him catch in 40-50 fewer games in 2017 will lead him to being healthier down the stretch, and into October. Don’t get me wrong, Martin has been a very productive hitter for the Blue Jays these past two years, but I expect him to be even better, and have a season closer to his 2014 year, when he hit .290/.402/.430. A healthy Russell Martin makes a very good Blue Jays team even better.
Also: Training in the offseason with a paraplegic gold medalist can’t hurt.