Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What Does the Russell Martin Signing Mean for Blue Jays Milb Catchers?


    The signing of free agent catcher Russell Martin has been equally lauded and panned across print, online and electronic media.
   While we can argue with the economics of the deal, it was more a reflection of where the market is going, and that in baseball, you are paid more often for what you have done, as opposed to what you might do in the future.
   And what Russell might do in the future is to upgrade the position for the Jays, possibly offer some roster flexibility, and give their minor league receivers more time to develop.

   We acknowledge that Russell is on the downside of his career - only 86 men have caught more games than Russell's 1121.  Just the same, he has been termed one of the top five framers of pitches over the period 2007-2011, and has justifiably gained a reputation as a good handler of young pitchers.  With Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison already in the starting rotation, and Aaron Sanchez and Daniel Norris on the verge of joining it, that had to be an important consideration for the club.

   While his production may be declining, Martin did have his best season at the plate last year (albeit it in only 460 PAs) since 2008.  Just the same, he likely won't match the offensive output of incumbent Dionner Navarro.
   What Martin's presence on the roster does do is give the Blue Jays a chance to either use the switch-hitting Navarro in a variety of spots, including First Base, DH, and spelling Martin (and acting as injury insurance).  Or, it may give the club an opportunity to mull over trade offers for Navarro to shore up other areas of the club, in which case a spot might open up on the roster for AJ Jimenez, who would likely make a good back up to Martin while he gains MLB experience.

   The signing also buys some added development time for Jimenez and the other catching prospects in the Blue Jays system.  The concern all along for Jimenez is his bat, and given his injury issues over the past two seasons, he could still benefit from added exposure to Triple A pitching.
   Injuries and a long collegiate season limited 2014 first round pick Max Pentecost to only 72 innings behind the plate this season.  Shoulder surgery in October will delay his 2015 debut until likely some time in May.  There was thought that Pentecost could be in the major by 2016, and while that may still happen, there isn't the urgency to rush him now that Martin is under contract.
   Danny Jansen, who would be next in line in terms of prospects, will now likely get the chance to hone his game-calling and offensive skills for a full season at Lansing, and not be rushed up the ladder.

   This is not to say, of course, that Martin is a long-term solution.  The odds of him still being a regular and productive player at the MLB level in five years would have to be long.  And given that catching depth is still one of the weaker lengths in the organizational chain, it still needs to be addressed.  Just the same, signing Martin bolsters both the major league club and the minor league organization.
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