I asked Charlie Wilmoth, from Bucs Dugout, SB Nation's Pittsburgh Pirates blog, for a scouting report on new Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin. This is what he had to say:
I don't have any grand insights beyond what you've likely already read. The variables here are clear. Martin's BABIP in 2014 was unsustainably high, but he has good power for a catcher and draws tons of walks, which should sustain him offensively while he provides value behind the plate.
As a catcher, his pitch blocking is very good, he has a good arm, and he fields the position very well. His framing ability is well known, and he also gets universally great marks from pitchers for his work with them. Those last two traits don't turn up in statistics like WAR, so he has a fair amount of hidden value.
Of course, the downsides of signing a catcher to a five-year deal through his mid-30s are obvious. Catchers tend to age particularly poorly, and Martin shouldn't be exempt from that trend, even though he probably takes care of himself as well as any player in baseball. The terms of Brian McCann's contract with the Yankees came up a lot as a precedent for a Martin deal, as if the McCann contract were a good deal and not a cautionary tale. I would bet against Martin hitting much in the last couple years of this contract.
Also, since Martin will likely be a slightly above average offensive player next season rather than a .400 OBP guy, the Blue Jays are paying fairly heavily for his framing and defense. I think that would actually be fine, except that for whatever reason, in the current market, you can get framing and catching defense fairly cheaply. There's no reason to give out a huge contract to get it.
The flip side of that is that it's possible those skills age better than other aspects of catching. For example, Jose Molina can't hit at all anymore, but he rated as a pretty good defender and an excellent framer even last season, at age 39. Right now, teams can get guys like Hank Conger and Francisco Cervelli fairly cheaply, but maybe in four years that won't be the case, and the Blue Jays will get reasonable value from Martin even as his bat fades.
Martin's contract is expensive and risky, but it's a better idea for a team like the Jays, who should be able to spend more to compensate for whatever they don't get out of the back end of the deal, than it would have been for the Pirates. Obviously, Toronto is getting a terrific ballplayer, and most or all of the nice things you've heard about Martin's defense and leadership abilities are true. He's also probably one of the smartest players in the game, and one of the best interviews. You're going to enjoy having him, at least in the first couple years.