Despite the fact that the Blue Jays are rebuilding, they will still have an important role for Russell Martin, their expensive veteran catcher.
The Blue Jays did pretty much what we expected they would before the non-waiver trade deadline on Tuesday. With their season record having them securely out of the playoff picture, the process of selling off veteran pieces took place, and likely will continue into August.
Gone are Steve Pearce, Seunghwan Oh, John Axford, J.A. Happ, and Roberto Osuna, and a whole host of host players have joined the Blue Jays organization. If Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro have their way this month as well, we could also see the likes of Marco Estrada, Josh Donaldson, Tyler Clippard, and potentially others switching uniforms.
This sort of thing happens all the time in professional sports, and when you’ve struggled as much as the Blue Jays have over the last season and a half, it gets to a point where a rebuild is the only choice. And with as much talent as the Blue Jays have in their minor league system, hitting the “re-set” button makes all the sense in the world.
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There has also been plenty of discussion about extending the tear down further. We heard rumours that there was interest in controllable assets like Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez, and no doubt there were more asked about by rival GM’s. One name we didn’t really hear come up was Russell Martin, who has one year remaining on his current contract in Toronto.
Martin might have been a fit with the Yankees, especially after Gary Sanchez went down with an injury. There were other clubs around baseball that could have used some catching help as well. However, Martin’s had a down year, and he’s also a very expensive player at this stage of his career, especially relative to his production. He’s slashing just .190/.335/.333 on the season with nine home runs, 22 RBI, and 1.3 bWAR earned thus far. Considering he’s making 20 million dollars this season, he’s been the bane of many frustrated fans in 2018. It’s also likely the biggest reason he remains in Toronto during a lost season, and near the end of his career.
The other reason might be equally important, and might also be why we didn’t really hear his name banded about at this year’s trade deadline. Assuming he’s still on the roster when the 2019 season begins, Martin will have a very important role on the Blue Jays, regardless of how much he actually plays.
Next season should be the year we start really seeing the next generation of Blue Jays make their way to the highest level. The big name is Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and while I don’t think the Blue Jays will open the season with him on the roster next year, I do think he’ll be up a few weeks in, as soon as the club can extend his service time another year. There are others who could make the jump at some point like Bo Bichette, and talented players like Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Ryan Borucki who have already had a taste of the bigs, and should be on the team in 2019.
Arguably the most important beneficiary of Martin’s presence should already be on the roster now. Danny Jansen is the Blue Jays’ top catching prospect, and looks like he’s ready to take over the reigns behind the plate. In Triple-A Buffalo this year he’s slashed .269/.387/.473 with 12 home runs and 52 RBI in 81 games played. He looks to have the ability to be a two-way player, and might finally be the homegrown catcher that Blue Jays’ fans have been waiting decades to see.
Having Martin around to teach Jansen the nuances of the game at the highest level would be tremendous for his development. They could theoretically split some time behind the plate, and the Blue Jays should still roll Martin out at 3rd on occasion if they felt he was hitting well enough to justify it. But it may also be the veteran presence in the clubhouse that matters most, whether or not Martin is even in the lineup. The Blue Jays have had a plethora of strong notable leaders of the last few years including Curtis Granderson, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Jose Bautista, and many others. If you comb through the list now though, almost all of them are set to be elsewhere in 2019.
That leadership role could also fall on guys like Tulowitzki (if he’s ever healthy), or other veterans like Justin Smoak, but otherwise the big voices in the room would suddenly be a lot younger. Maybe that’s a good thing in some ways, especially if guys like Marcus Stroman or Aaron Sanchez can thrive as leaders of the next generation. However, it definitely helps to have a guy that’s been there for an additional decade, and Martin could do a lot in helping develop the next generation of leaders, as well as helping the youngsters make the transition.
He may face a lot of criticism these days, but overall I would still argue with nearly anyone that Martin’s five year, 82 million dollar contract has been worth it, even in the face of his struggles this season. And even though he’s set to make the last 20 million next year, the Blue Jays could still get plenty of value from him, even if his performance doesn’t improve much.