Russell Martin is entering the fifth and final year of his massive $82 million contract signed back prior to the 2015 season. Martin’s deal was backloaded heavily in order to make him fit in with the team’s current roster structure, so he was paid only $7 million in 2015, $15 million in 2016, and then $20 million in 2017, 2018, and 2019.
I don’t think any normal, rational person would question this signing in hindsight. Obviously, Martin hasn’t lived up to the $20 million price tag in either of the past two seasons and he won’t next year either, but he played a key role in Toronto’s two playoff runs in 2015 and 2016. Having him at $7 million and $15 million during those two ALCS appearances was huge for the team and payroll flexibility.
All told, Martin only played 71 games and 620 innings behind the plate in 2018. He was also utilized at third, short, and left field, but the Jays weren’t in a rush to get Martin’s bat in the lineup as he posted a .663 OPS over 352 plate appearances. Once September rolled around and Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire were added to the roster, we hardly ever saw Martin catching. His role last season can be best defined as some kind of multi-position backup player/coach utility guy.
I figured that would be his role again next season as he mentored young pitchers and McGuire and/or Jansen, but it seems the Blue Jays might have different ideas.
The Blue Jays are willing to eat a portion of the $20 million Russell Martin is owed in 2019 to facilitate a trade. Martin, though, turns 36 in February and is coming off a .194 season. Nevertheless, he still is a patient hitter with some pop who is thought of as a good leader and defender. Perhaps he can be put somewhere on the Mets’ list of options.
Given how desolate the market is for catchers, Russell Martin with a hefty chunk of salary being retained certainly has some value.
J.T. Realmuto, the best catcher in baseball last year, will be traded by the Marlins but it’ll cost a premium, and Yasmani Grandal, second to Realmuto in WAR among catchers, is a free agent but will cost the signing team a draft pick because the Dodgers tendered him a qualifying offer. After that, we’re talking about Brian McCann, Jonathan Lucroy, and Matt Wieters, all of whom were worse at the plate than Martin last season, as legitimate free agent veteran catcher options.
Even contending teams are desperate for catchers. Like, Erik Kratz was playing in the NLCS for the Brewers and the Astros had to go out and acquire Martin Maldonado prior to the trade deadline, who posted a whopping 74 wRC+, to play instead of McCann.
If the Jays eat a good portion of Martin’s salary, they could probably get back a middling prospect for him. If that does end up happening, I imagine we see Jansen start the season with the team, splitting time with Luke Maile, while McGuire starts the year in Triple-A.
I thought Martin had value to the team as a veteran leader, but it seems cutting payroll and opening up spots on the roster for younger players is more of a priority at this point. Given what we’ve heard about the payroll being slashed over these next couple rebuild years, though, this isn’t overly surprising. Let’s just hope that some of the money saved on Martin would be re-invested in something like the starting rotation or bullpen.