By now everyone has formed their initial opinions about the massive deal that the Blue Jays signed with Canadian-born catcher Russell Martin this morning. While there are valid points on each side, it's at least exciting to have something to talk about this offseason and it's still only mid-November. It seems like a good time to outline the obvious pros and cons to this deal and see how valid each point is when you really look into it.
Pro: Russell Martin is an excellent pitch-framer
Pretty much everyone that loves this deal is pointing to the upgrade in the pitch-framing department brought about from the difference between Russell Martin and Dioner Navarro. At this point the upgrade is essentially an undeniable fact, although the actual value of the upgrade is up for interpretation. Based on pretty much the only public available data at StatCorner.com, Martin was worth 11.7 RAA last season while Dioner Navarro came in at -20.0 RAA, which is one of the lowest totals in the league for catchers with a sample size of at least 3000. Variances from year to year aren't uncommon, but in 2013 Martin once again was near the top of the league with a 17.0 RAA total, while Navarro once again had a lowly -3.7. There's a lot of debate over how representative this data is, but there's no doubt that the Blue Jays believe that the difference in pitch-framing skill between Martin and Navarro is a sizeable one.
It's an added comfort that Martin is rated as an outstanding pitch-framer by many of the notable measures, although obviously there is a little bit of difference in how many runs he saves per year depending on which one you decide to listen to:
via Hardball Times
Con: Russell Martin is now signed for his age 32 through 36 seasons
Long-term contracts in the MLB are about as risky as anything in sports and often are earned in the first half of their life, while the teams are forced to pay for that additional value in the second half. The Blue Jays may find themselves in that situation in the next half-decade as Martin seems like a good bet to provide the 2.5-3.0 WAR needed to earn his annual contract value in the first few years of his contract ($16.4M/year with 1.0 WAR being worth about $6M). The potential risk comes in the latter half of his contract when he's behind the plate for 120+ games in his age 35 and 36 seasons. There seems to be a misconception that catchers age worse than other position players, but thankfully it's actually not true which should be a slight relief for Blue Jays fans:
It also is a comforting sign that framing has almost no aging curve at all:
The potential injury risk is also present as the Canadian enters his mid-30's, with the former Pirate spending time on the disabled list earlier this season with hamstring issues and also experiencing groin issues during the team's (short) playoff run this October. Martin has played in at least 100 games in every single one of his professional seasons except 2010 with the Dodgers, so the injury risk isn't as high as it could be when signing an aging catcher.
Pro: Russell Martin is coming off a spectacular offensive season
Beyond what Martin brings to the team in terms of defence he also provided a wRC+ of 140 in 2014, which contained an OBP of .402 and 11 home runs. He provided the Pirates an extremely reliable bat in the middle of the lineup that was patient at the plate and took a fair amount of walks (12.8% BB-rate). This spectacular season earned him some MVP votes, where he ended up 13th, well behind his teammate Andrew McCutchen and fellow catchers Buster Posey and Jonathan Lucroy. Enough about this outlier season.
Con: When accounting for a high BABIP in 2014, Martin is a fairly average bat
I like Martin, w/o question makes Jays better. But: 2014: .290/.402/.430, .336 BABIP, 140 wRC+ 2011-13: .225/.321/.395, .247 BABIP, 99 wRC+— Chris Toman (@Chris_Toman) November 17, 2014
It can't be said much better than that. An extremely out of the ordinary BABIP in 2014 helped Martin look a lot better than he should have and the Blue Jays may have had to pay a bit more than fair value because of it. The Canadian's wRC+ traditionally hovers around a mark of 100. When you list the offensive performances of catchers from 2011-2014, Martin is on the edge of the top 10 and well behind the front of the pack of truly elite offensive catchers (if you decide to omit his 2014 season then he is quite a bit further down the list). Many people are talking about the Blue Jays acquiring a tremendous bat, but in reality it's much more likely that he's an average bat behind the plate which is also what Dioner Navarro is capable of providing.
Pro: The Blue Jays are proving that they have money to spend and are not rebuilding
I think this point is especially necessary when you consider the growing frustration among long-suffering Blue Jays fans. There was beginning to be suspicion that the team could get blown up this offseason and launched into another painful rebuild, which would have eliminated a lot of the fan interest that has grown since the deal with the Marlins. Thankfully Rogers has provided the money to allow Alex Anthopoulos to essentially make the moves that will determine whether he has a job next offseason. After Martin signed reports started flying around that the team was in on Jon Lester and Andrew Miller, which is actually terrifying, but shows that the team is serious about winning now.
Con: The team may have no money left to play with
Paul Beeston has stated that there isn't a hard ceiling to the Blue Jays payroll, but in reality there is little chance they eclipse the $145 million mark in 2015. With the Martin signing this obviously means that the team will now be about as financially flexible as an 80-year-old man in a straitjacket. There's a chance that Navarro is traded, which would add a little bit of room to make another signing, but in my opinion it seems unlikely the Blue Jays add any more major financial obligations for next season.
Pro: Martin is Canadian and a veteran player
One thousand words into the piece and we've finally reached points that are unmeasurable. The obvious plus to Martin playing for the Blue Jays is that the team will likely have three Canadian starters on Opening Day next year with Brett Lawrie, Dalton Pompey, and Martin. This is more of a marketers dream than anything, but tickets will need to be sold to make this payroll increase worthwhile and three home-country players should go a long way to filling the stands. Martin has also been praised as a great game-caller and calming influence behind the plate, which should help out the slew of young pitchers the Blue Jays figure to be running out next season.
Con: Martin rubs some people the wrong way
I'll admit it. I have a notion in my head that Martin isn't the friendliest player in the world and has gotten on the bad side of a fair number of people. It may stem back to when he demanded to play shortstop or not at all in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, which put Team Canada in the tough position of not really having a catcher. If you'll recall Brett Lawrie was pretty angry about it too, which could make for an awkward first few days when Spring Training opens next year.
"For him to kind of do that right when we’re about to take off, it’s kind of annoying," Lawrie, a native of Langley, B.C., told the Star. He later described Martin’s decision as "weak" and "not right" to Sportsnet radio.
Martin has also had a few run-ins with the opposing team over the course of his career, including this previous season when he wanted to fight Martin Maldonado of the Brewers in the offseason after the two teams had a brawl during a game:
Martin: "If (Maldonado) wants to have a fight for charity in the offseason. My contract comes up. … I’d be completely willing to do that."— Travis Sawchik (@Sawchik_Trib) April 21, 2014
Con: The Blue Jays lose their #17 draft pick
For Blue Jays fans who enjoy the draft, the 2015 version will be a slight letdown as the team forfeited their first round draft pick to complete the signing. With Martin rejecting the Pirates' qualifying offer, Toronto was forced to surrender their #17 draft pick, which was actually #18 before the Mets signed Michael Cuddyer earlier this month. The eventual value of this pick is obviously an unknown, but the Blue Jays have made some solid picks in this area over the past few years including Marcus Stroman at #22 in 2012. The added benefit is that if the Blue Jays sign another free agent this offseason that rejected a qualifying offer, they will only be forfeiting their compensatory pick assuming they fail to re-sign Melky Cabrera. This gives the team a leg up on the competition who will likely be facing the downside of losing their more valuable first round pick that the Blue Jays have already lost.
That seems to summarize the main points on both sides of the argument relating to the signing of Russell Martin. As an aside, Martin first broke into the league after he replaced an injured Dioner Navarro in Los Angeles after the Canadian had initially lost the starting job in Spring Training. When Navarro returned, Martin had stolen the job from him and eventually led to the Venezuelan being traded away to Tampa Bay. How history repeats itself.