Blue jays invest in defense with Russell Martin

BY foxsports • November 17, 2014

Our Ken Rosenthal is reporting that the Toronto Blue Jays have signed free agent catcher Russell Martin to a five-year, $82 million contract. The deal falls just $3 million short of the five-year, $85 million deal Brian McCann signed with the Yankees last offseason.

Martin enjoyed a career year in 2014 with the Pirates. A season is which he slashed .290/.402/.430. The OBP was a career high, the batting average and slugging percentage were his highest since 2007. Signing a player long term to top dollar coming off his best season is usually a no-no, especially at 31 years old. Martin is well liked and well respected in the game both inside and outside of the clubhouse and without question an upgrade over current Blue Jays catcher Dioner Navarro.

This deal though is not about Russell Martin the great guy or Russell Martin and his career offensive season. This deal is about Russell Martin the great defensive catcher with a better-than-average bat.  

Martin is a solid pitch framer, his 11.7 RAA (runs above average) ranked 10th in MLB last season. Pitch framing is the "it" stat these days and while its calculation can be fairly disputed, they value of a good pitch framer cannot. Martin's ability to receive well, that is, have soft hands, give umpires good looks at pitches and making some balls appear as strikes, is a skillset that every pitcher on the Blue Jays will appreciate. Navarro last season posted a -20.0 RAA. Only Wellington Castillo (Cubs) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Marlins) were worse in baseball. Not surprisingly, the Cubs were also rumored to be in on Martin.

Martin is also an excellent thrower. Of all catchers with at least 100 games played in 2014, Martin ranked second to only Yadier Molina in caught stealing percentage (38.5 percentage).

Martin likely won't post the kind of offensive numbers in Toronto that he did this past season. A regression to his mean is more likely. Somewhere in the neighborhood of .270 with 15-20 homeruns combined with his defense makes him worth what the Blue Jays paid for him.

Just ask any pitcher.