Russell Martin will be turning 35 on February 15, and he’s coming off two straight years where his Wins Above Replacement (2016 1.7, 2017 1.5) were the lowest they’ve been during his entire 12-year career.
Martin’s been a workhorse over the years, having played an incredible 1,520 games, of which 1,448 of those have been at catcher. He has a lifetime .253 AVG, but in the months of Sept/Oct, his AVG drops to a meager .229. Over the 1st half of 2017, he had a decent slash line of .235/.378/.403, but then followed that up with a very disappointing .198/.276/.360 in the 2nd half of the season.
The lengthy 162-game season takes its toll on a catcher like Martin more than it does most other players, and we can only imagine how much of a toll 12-years of such a grind has taken. With Martin getting up there in age, and still with 2-years/$40 million remaining on his contract, the Blue Jays will need to do everything they can to keep him as fresh as possible. Although it’s a very small sample size, last season Martin played 10 games at 3rd base and put up a respectable .281 AVG and .395 OBP in those games. Perhaps the best thing for Martin and the Blue Jays moving forwards would be to give him ample playing time at 3rd base. It would provide Josh Donaldson with a bit of a breather and also hopefully get a little more out of Martin’s bat.
With the possible exception of Danny Jansen, Martin is still the best catcher the Blue Jays have. So even though Martin’s hefty salary far exceeds his level of production, he’s still the number one option at catcher for the time being. It’s important the Blue Jays not rush Jansen, who’s still just 22 and only has the one big season (2017) in the minors to his credit. As soon as Jansen proves he can repeat in the minors what he did in 2017 though, it’s probably in the Blue Jays best interest to call him up, where he can help Martin carry the load behind the plate.
As hard as they may try, the Blue Jays will be hard pressed to find that elusive solid back-up catcher on the free agent market or via a trade. Unless Luke Maile or whoever happens to be the back-up to begin next season stands on their head, Toronto’s best option to play back-up catcher would be the up-and-coming Jansen. Who better than Martin to help Jansen along as he transitions to the big leagues and quite possibly becomes the Blue Jays starting catcher before Martin’s contract is up at the conclusion of the 2019 season?
This past year, Toronto saw first hand what happens when you over play an aging veteran. Far too much was asked of Jose Bautista in 2017, and his poor offensive numbers were a direct result of Toronto not completely understanding how best to utilize someone who shouldn’t have been playing as often as he was. Russell Martin now finds himself in the exact same boat that Bautista was in this year. The only difference being that Toronto can learn from the mistakes they made with their legendary right fielder, and figure out a more fitting playing schedule for Martin that brings out the best in what’s left of his game.