With the emergence of both Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire, does it make sense for the Blue Jays to keep Russell Martin around for 2019?
After the Blue Jays called Danny Jansen up to the big leagues this summer and he flourished in his first few games, it wasn’t hard to see the writing on the wall for the future.
Jansen looks like the real deal, and might be the first home grown catcher the Blue Jays have developed in a very long time, with all due respect to guys like J.P. Arencibia. He’s also arriving a year before the expiration of Russell Martin‘s current contract, assuming he can stick with the big league club next year as the league adjusts to him.
The Blue Jays and John Gibbons have been creative with how they’ve used the Martin this season. He’s made 89 starts this year, with 73 of them coming behind the plate, 11 at third base, and one a piece at shortstop and in the outfield. He’s done surprisingly well as he’s played in the infield, but it’s not something the Blue Jays can realistically do a lot of next season. With the impending promotion of Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and other third base options on the roster like Brandon Drury, Aledmys Diaz, Yangervis Solarte, and more, I don’t expect their new manager to use him quite as liberally. Of course, that could change with a trade or two, but I would still think the Blue Jays would rather someone else being playing the hot corner on a regular basis.
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Which leaves Martin behind the plate, which truthfully is the best place for the talented receiver. He’s long been one of the best defensive catchers in the game, and even if his numbers have taken a bit of a step back this season, I’d still argue that he’s an asset back there. However, the Blue Jays will rightfully give Danny Jansen a fair amount of starts next year, and there’s a decent chance that Reese McGuire is working his way into their sights as well for 2019.
Both sample sizes are small, but the young catching tandem has looked up to the task. They’ve both looked capable on defence, and have each contributed with the bat as well.
23 games and 67 at bats
.254/.346/.436, two home runs, five RBI, 0.5 bWAR
7 games and 16 at bats
.250/.333/.375, two doubles, one RBI, 0.2 bWAR
Again, I’m not going to proclaim either of them ready to outperform Martin over the course of an entire season, but that probably doesn’t matter to the Blue Jays as much as their getting experience next season. They both look defensively capable, and with Jansen in particular it seems very likely that he’ll receive the bulk of the starts next season, or at least half of them in a worst case scenario. Is that going to be okay by the Canadian veteran?
I don’t mean to piggy-back Steve Buffery at the Toronto Sun for two days in a row, but he had a great article yesterday about Martin being willing to step aside down the stretch this year. He’s been an absolute pro about everything, but Buffery’s article aptly pointed out how Martin feels about not being on the field, even if he hasn’t said much of anything. Martin makes sure to point out that he feels great and that he’s lucky and has “some pretty good genes” at 35 years old.
The veteran backstop’s recent comments lead me to believe that he still feels he has a lot in the tank, and would likely be at least a little bit miffed if he wasn’t the majority catcher in Toronto next year. There’s no guarantee that he won’t end up that guy, but if the Blue Jays would truly rather not have him on the field (in the interest of playing time for the young guys), is that fair to a veteran who still has something to give? I know he had a rough year at the plate, but he’s still been worth 1.3 bWAR, even while playing just 90 games.
I’m also keenly aware that he’s due a salary of 20 million in 2019, the final year of his five year contract. In order for the Blue Jays to trade him to another team they would have to eat some of that money, but aren’t they doing that anyway if he’s toiling on the bench? I do also love the angle of him being a valuable mentor to the young players, especially for Jansen and McGuire, but it’s a pretty tough role to ask of Martin at this stage of his career, even if he’s being paid handsomely to do it.
As the transformation of this roster has already begun this year, I’ve always pictured the Canadian as being one of the guys to stick around and help guide the franchise into the new era next season. That may still be exactly what he does, but the more I think about it the more it makes sense to explore moving him this winter, even if it’s out of respect for his talents and his desire to remain a starting MLB catcher. At 35 he won’t have a lot of years left in the tank, regardless of how good his body feels right now.
This is one of those situations where I’ll be okay with it regardless of how it plays out, even if that means the Blue Jays have to eat a significant amount of money to “rid themselves” of someone who still brings a lot of value. If it’s done in the interest of making sure there is playing time for the kids, and for showing respect to a valued veteran, sometimes weird things like that make a little more sense. That’s how I feel about it today anyway. Ask me next week and I might have a totally different answer.