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Blue Jays: Apparently Russel Martin is a utility man now

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 27: Russell Martin #55 of the Toronto Blue Jays high-fives teammates after scoring in the second inning during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on May 27, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PA - MAY 27: Russell Martin #55 of the Toronto Blue Jays high-fives teammates after scoring in the second inning during a game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on May 27, 2018 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images) /
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After making his big league debut at shortstop last week, Russell Martin is in the lineup again on Monday playing left field.

Russell Martin has been one of the top catchers in baseball for several years now, and was a big reason why the Blue Jays became a playoff team in 2015-16. His guidance of a young pitching staff was well documented, and his offensive contribution was above average for a MLB catcher. There were a number of great reasons for Martin getting a five year, 82 million dollar deal prior to the 2015 season.

Martin has always been versatile, but lately John Gibbons has decided to expand that skill set and put Martin in positions he’s never been as a professional. A big reason for that has been the amount of injuries to the roster, but I’m not sure any of us saw this degree of “versatility” coming.

Martin made his first career start at shortstop last week, and if I’m being fair, he performed reasonably well there. I felt there were a couple plays that a regular shortstop might have made, but he didn’t look completely lost. Of course, that’s not exactly the bar of performance you want to set either, with all due respect to the Canadian backstop.

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On Monday morning we were treated to the latest surprise on the lineup card. Martin has played some third base, second base, and now shortstop, but he’s lined up to play left field on Monday against the Red Sox. As Ben Nicholson-Smith asked in his article after Martin played shortstop, I have one significant question:

Why Gibby? Why? (Ok, that was two).

As I said the other day, I could almost understand this line of thinking if Martin’s bat was on fire, but that hasn’t been the case this year. In fact, I’d argue that the fans would be jumping on him just as bad as they have Kendrys Morales, if not for his defensive contributions as a catcher. Fans shouldn’t hold his new-found versatility against Martin either, but I don’t know that this should be all that endearing either.

The other day I said that it “felt like a joke” when I saw Martin at shortstop. This latest decision to put him in left field might have surprised me even more. His only experience in the outfield came back in 2013, when he played one game in right field for the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was also just a 5.2 inning stint, so he doesn’t even have a full game of experience out there.

I have no doubt that Martin can competently shag fly balls, and even make routine plays. However, I’m not sure I’m ready to watch that level of “defence” in left field again, the likes of which we haven’t really seen since Chris Colabello and Danny Valencia were placed out there. And I realize that there has been discussion about Martin transitioning into a utility-type in the latter part of his career, but I’m not sure now is the time to test out that idea. This is a team that badly needs a spark to get them back on the right track for playoff contention, and while this is creative and even arguably a little bit of fun, it’s not a sound baseball decision, if you ask me anyway.

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I’ve always been a fan of John Gibbons and I’ve defended him a great deal over the years, but I’m not sure I can get behind these decisions. Maybe Martin will prove me wrong (I’d be totally fine with that), but just as I said a few days ago, this feels a little bit like a joke.

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