Although he had yet to sign anywhere, former Blue Jay Russell Martin had plans to play baseball in 2020. Unfortunately, his career may have an odd ending if MLB doesn’t resume this year.
As we’ve received more updates about the Covid-19 situation in North America over the last few days, I have admit that it’s getting harder to see baseball happening this year. It’s too early to make that call of course, but things aren’t exactly looking good, and now there are even reports of discussions about empty stadium games again.
I hadn’t really considered the possibility yet for baseball players, but this whole situation has brought a sad end to the careers of a few legends around other sports. Vince Carter has almost certainly played his last NBA game (unless they do a no-fans type of tournament or something to settle the NBA this year), and the same could happen to a few NHL legends like Joe Thornton or Zdeno Chara, who had their season derailed as well.
The longer this plays out, the better chance there is that the same could happen to baseball players, and that list could include a former Blue Jay. Although Russell Martin hadn’t yet signed anywhere to play this year, he had designs on returning for at least one more season before calling it career, and right now those plans are in limbo.
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The Canadian-born catcher doesn’t have much of anything left to prove, but he’s always coveted an elusive World Series ring. He’s been to the playoffs many different times with the Dodgers, Yankees, Pirates, and Blue Jays, but has yet to cross that final finish line for a championship. I’m sure it’s a significant part of what would have brought him back this year, which could be his 15th season in the big leagues.
Martin has a career slash line of .248/.349/.397, providing offensive value, but his greatest contribution was on defence. The now 37-year-old has amassed 38.8 bWAR throughout his career, and was still at his best during his first few years as a Blue Jay. He wasn’t alone in pushing them from a good team to a legit playoff contender, but his signing before the 2015 season was a huge reason for their success that season, and the following one.
He finished his career as a Blue Jay slashing .225/.336/.399 with 66 home runs, 211 RBI, and 59 doubles over 447 games. His production tailed off near the end of his tenure in Toronto, but he was worth 3.2 bWAR in 2015, and followed it up with a 2.0 mark the next year as the team made the playoffs both seasons.
Last year Martin spent the season as the back-up in Los Angeles, and once again got very close to getting that World Series ring. He wasn’t used all that much though, as he played in just 83 regular season games, and made just one appearance in the playoffs. With both Will Smith and Austin Barnes under contract in L.A. for this year, it’s unlikely they’ll bring him back even if there is a season, but they’re not the only contender that could use the veteran’s services.
Obviously we’re all hoping that there will be baseball this year for a wide variety of reasons, but among them for me would be seeing veterans get to leave the game on their own terms. That might have happened for Martin anyway if he didn’t find the right landing spot this spring, but for now we’ll never know. Hopefully his MLB story doesn’t end that way.