Blue Jays GM calls Russell Martin 'key to our offseason'
In his pursuit of Russell Martin, Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos made his intentions clear in a message to the free-agent catcher's representative.
''At one point I mentioned to the agent, `Just so you know. I'm signing the player,''' a smiling Anthopoulos remembered telling Matt Colleran. ''Obviously, that wasn't to be arrogant or cocky. I felt we wanted him more than anybody else. We just put so much time into this. He's the key to our offseason, and he's someone that we really wanted to have.''
Anthopoulos added a fifth guaranteed season in the final hour of negotiations and reached an $82 million, five-year contract. The three-time All-Star will earn $7 million next year, $15 million in 2016 and $20 million in each of the final three seasons.
Martin hit .290 with 11 home runs and 67 RBI with Pittsburgh last season, helping the Pirates to a second straight playoff berth.
Martin said Anthopoulos ''touched on every angle,'' including the chance for the Canadian to play in in his home nation.
''He was just very vocal about how much he wanted me to be a part of the team,'' Martin said Thursday. ''He felt like it was a perfect fit. I think he said `It doesn't happen every day. It feels like the stars almost aligned for this to happen.'''
Cosmic significance or not, Martin still needed time to make up his mind.
''I wouldn't say it was an easy decision because there were other places I felt like I fit, as well, but this one just made the most sense,'' Martin said.
It's the largest deal Anthopoulos agreed to since taking over from J.P. Ricciardi after the 2009 season and the Blue Jays' second-biggest behind Vernon Wells' $126 million deal covering 2008-14.
''I've never been as comfortable with a signing as I've been with this one, just because of everything he brings,'' the GM said. ''This was more work than I've ever done. A lot of miles in the car, flights, a lot of time on the phone, a lot of days away from home sitting in the office. Definitely the hardest I've ever worked on pursuing a free agent.''
Born in Toronto and raised in Montreal, Martin becomes the 21st Canadian player in Blue Jays history and the third on the active roster, joining infielder Brett Lawrie and outfielder Dalton Pompey.
Two weeks ago, Anthopoulos and team President Paul Beeston flew to Montreal to meet Martin at a coffee shop near his home in suburban Montreal. Their conversation attracted the attention of a customer seated nearby.
''There was an older lady, she probably used to be an Expos fan,'' Martin said. ''At the end of our meeting she looked at me and she started smiling. She was like, `You need to sign with the Blue Jays.'''
Anthopoulos also grew up in Montreal. Both men spoke in French while answering questions from Quebec media during the news conference.
Catcher Dioner Navarro was Toronto's lone free-agent acquisition last offseason, signing am $8 million, two-year deal. Anthopoulos said Navarro, owed $5 million next year, could be used as a part-time designated hitter and backup catcher but acknowledged the former All-Star is attracting trade offers.
''We've had some pretty strong interest so far,'' Anthopoulos said. ''We'll see where it goes.''
Toronto also has Josh Thole, whose primary role is catching R.A. Dickey's knuckleball. Anthopoulos said he's already spoken to Martin about working with Dickey and said his new signing is ''up for the challenge'' of catching the 2012 National League Cy Young winner.
Anthopoulos said he hopes to re-sign free agent outfielder Melky Cabrera, who turned down Toronto's qualifying offer two weeks ago.
''There's no question that Melky is someone we'd like to have back,'' Anthopoulos said.