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Blue Monday, Jays Add Russell Martin

I’m late to this party, as usual, but being a stay at home dad often means computer time is limited.  Very limited.  I’m just glad I decided to check my phone at around 10 am yesterday morning.  Twitter was kind of blowing up.  To put it mildly, the Jays had made a splash.  So, while I have an hour to type as fast as I can, let’s try and get a few thoughts on the deal.

Let’s just get this out of the way, I like this move a lot.

So, before I say why, let’s deal with the negative, and it’s completely understandable why some may dump on the signing:

1) As mentioned above, I didn’t get much of a chance to check twitter but a lot of the tweets I did see were rather sarcastic.  Specifically mentioning how much they loved the Yan Gomes and Mike Aviles for Esmil Rogers trade while minoring in Travis D’Arnaud being involved in the R.A. Dickey deal mentions.

Isn’t hindsight wonderful?  Granted, Toronto’s front office missed badly in evaluating what they had in Gomes (the trade is my second most hated of the Anthopoulos era behind the Mike Napoli for Frank Francisco swap).  But what’s to be done about it now?  There’s no do-overs in sport.  It’s done, time to move on.

Catcher was once a position of strength in the Jays system but the Mets wouldn’t trade their reigning Cy Young winner without D’Arnaud going the other way.  A.J. Jimenez has been slowed by injuries and probably profiles as a defence first backup anyway and once highly touted Santiago Nessy wasn’t going to be protected in the Rule 5 draft and was thus shipped to Kansas City for Jays re-tread Liam Hendricks.  Shows how much his stock had fallen.

2014 first rounder Max Pentecost has had off-season shoulder surgery and is years away.

With all that going on and 2011-13 incumbent J.P. Arencibia not terribly good, Toronto went out and signed part-timer Dioner Navarro to an over-market two year deal.  While that signing actually worked out fairly wall, it brings me to negative point two.

2) I’m guessing a lot of people are looking at projection systems and asking why the Jays decided to the give 32 year old Martin 82 million when the 30 years young Navarro projects to be only 2.2 wins above replacement (according to Steamer) below Russell while costing a whole lot less.  There’s two arguments against this, one of which I’ll touch on later, the other contains two parts.

One, projection systems aren’t the end all.  Looking at recent history (I sampled 2011 to 2014) Martin has accumulated the third most WAR for catchers at 14.1 while Navarro comes in 29th with 3.8 (admittedly 2 of those were from last year). That averages out to about 2.6 wins per year in Russell’s favour.

Of course, these values don’t include the nascent stat of pitch framing where Baseball Prospectus ranks Martin 6th, with 19.3 runs added or 154.8 ‘extra strikes’.  Navarro slots in at 98th (!!) with -13.8 and -109.7 numbers respectively.  That’s a 33 run difference between the two.  I’d like to say that’s about a 3 win swing but let’s be conservative and say 2.

All else being equal (which isn’t a huge stretch given the age gap is only 2 years and Martin is far more athletic and should age well), that makes for say 4.5 win difference having Martin over Navarro.  I still think you could add more taking into account the fact the Jays are going to have three starters (Drew Hutchison, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez) under 24 years of age.

Those extra strikes (and wins) could come in very handy.

3) Getting back to Steamer (and the negative ninnies) many will surely question how 3.8 project wins are worth 16 odd million per year.  Especially when you consider those wins should regress as players (catchers particularly) reach their mid-30s.  While I’m not going to touch any sort of predictions of what Martin may do, I will say this.  His last two seasons have seen him put up 4.1 and 5.3 wins respectively while playing in a park generally considered less favourable offensively than the Rogers Center.

Jay Jaffe, creator of the excellent ‘JAWS’ Hall of Fame metric, calculates the amount of wins needed to make the contract flat:

A calculation that factors inflation, a typical aging curve and the market cost of a win, if would take about 12.5 WAR over the life of this contract for it to be a break-even proposition.

And that doesn’t include the aforementioned pitch framing runs saved.  Say Martin puts up something in between what he did the last two years.  That puts him over a third of the way of paying off the contract.  Lead the Jays to the playoffs and I’ll write it off totally (hey, it ain’t my money).

Enough with the negative then.

I love this signing.  For numerous reasons.  So let’s do some quick hits.

Going back to point one above, the Jays, despite more obvious positions of need (2b/3b, OF, and bullpen) have decided to go out and get what they feel is the best player available.

Using this list as an example, Martin is easily a top 10 free agent this off-season.  Despite Navarro being decent in 2014, Russell is just better.  He’s a better hitter, putting up a career 106 wRC+ to Navarro’s 86.  He’s FAR better defensively – as discussed.  And, I know this may be construed as me jumping on the clubhouse narrative bandwagon, but Martin is a renowned leader.

In a clubhouse that needed shaking up, this was probably taken into consideration by Anthopoulos.  Add in fact that the three young starters I mentioned above will soon be joined by more of the youth brigade with the likes of Daniel Norris, Roberto Osuna, and Miguel Castro on their way and Martin’s presence both in the locker room and behind the plate will be invaluable.

I also have to think that Martin will be a protection policy for Dalton Pompey.  With recent trade of Anthony Gose effectively handing the center field job to Pompey the pressure on a 22 year old kid from Mississauga would have been enormous.  Look at what the hype machine that ‘Canada’s Team’ did to Brett Lawrie a couple of years back.  Making York born, Montreal raised Martin the face of the team, and thereby the Canadian content, will only help both Lawrie and Pompey.

No way these ‘intangibles’ provide 16 million bucks worth of value, but they’ll help.  And what was there wasn’t working.  The buzzword this off-season was about making the ‘floor’ of the team better.  With Martin now in the fold and Pompey in center, the spine of the team has gotten better.  If Navarro sticks around, then great, his bat will be a welcome addition as back up catcher and part time DH.  Again, the floor gets better.

Even if this signing means the end to any hope of bringing back Melky Cabrera it’s a good move.  The Jays have seriously upgraded on the field, at a premium position, while bringing in a Canadian (good for the marketing department) who has gone to the playoffs in 7 of his 9 MLB season.


(update: since I wrote this post and published it over at the VancouverSun.com/Canadians the structure of Martin’s salary has been released.  Holy backdated Batman.  With the Jays only (really??) paying their new catcher 7 million bucks in 2015 they are able to accommodate the signing within current team issued guidelines while saving the larger payments until other big ticket salaries are cleared off the books.  I could do the table myself but there are loads of others out there that have done the job for me, including the always excellent Andrew Stoeten.

And while 20 smill for a 35 year old catcher may be tough to digest, as I mention in my original article, the fact that a leader such as Martin will be the one catching the likes of Roberto Osuna, Miguel Castro, Jeff Hoffman, et al kinda makes it all worthwhile.

Plus, there’s more love on his pitch framing ability.)


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