Blue Jays Hustle Russell the Muscle Out of Town

A long-expected move came to fruition on Jan. 11, as the Blue Jays traded popular Canadian catcher Russell Martin to the Dodgers.

 

 

It was a move that many expected, including the man at the epicenter of the transaction. However, it is still a somber day in Blue Jays land as in the midst of a Winter Fest in Halifax that saw two MLB catchers in attendance, the third was finally sent packing.

 

 

On Jan. 11, the Blue Jays officially traded veteran catcher Russell Martin, along with cash considerations, to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a pair of prospects: teenage shortstop Ronny Brito and right-hander Andrew Sopko. The cash considerations are expected to pare Martin’s 2019 cost down from $20M to a more manageable $4M price tag for the Dodgers.

 

This trade means another member of the 2015-16 Blue Jays playoff teams is out the door. Martin, who grew up in Montreal, signed a five-year deal with Toronto on Nov. 18, 2014 worth $82M. The team was looking for a winning presence and steady leadership behind the plate as it pushed to end a lengthy playoff drought. The Canadian catcher was up to the challenge, delivering with authority.

 

Martin immediately posted an All-Star calibre campaign in Toronto, smashing a career-high 23 home runs and adding 77 RBIs as the Blue Jays returned to the postseason for the first time in 22 years. He followed that up with a 20-homer effort in 2016, and Russell the Muscle was indelibly inked into Blue Jays lore for that, as well as the defense and pitch-framing he offered behind the plate. Those two years alone, he posted a combined 5.5 WAR according to Fangraphs.

 

However, as Martin’s fortunes fell, so did the Blue Jays. He only appeared in 91 games in 2017, the first time he failed to appear in at least 100 games since 2010, and batted just .210 as he failed to take part in the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. 2018 saw his offensive skills sink further, as the veteran catcher hit just .194 with 10 home runs in 90 games. He showed his value defensively, playing third base, left field and even shortstop for the short-handed Blue Jays, but as he sat for the majority of September in favor of Danny Jansen, Luke Maile and Reese McGuire, it soon became clear that Martin was not long for this team.

 

 

Martin goes back to a familiar spot, ending up in Los Angeles, where he started his MLB career in 2006. The veteran, who turns 36 next month, will likely be called upon to catch a good chunk of games. Los Angeles saw Yasmani Grandal bolt for Milwaukee on a one-year deal this week, hence necessitating a trade, but they may not be done swapping for catchers. While J.T. Realmuto may be too rich for even their blood, LA has been linked to Pittsburgh’s Francisco Cervelli, and Martin would serve as a defensive counterpoint to Cervelli’s more potent bat.

 

For Toronto, as stated, this move clears the path for Jansen to take over as the everyday starting catcher and grow into his role much like Martin did in the late 2000s, it allows Maile to have job security and know he will remain on a roster that now has the more traditionally accepted three backstops, and it allows McGuire to develop his skills in Buffalo as the clear starter in AAA. Those wondering about the 40-man roster spot that Martin vacates won’t have to think back far, as it will likely go to the newly-signed David Phelps, who is on an MLB contract.

 

 

As for the prospects, they offer a bit of intrigue. Brito, a 19-year-old switch-hitting middle infielder from the Dominican Republic, hit 11 home runs in 53 games at Rookie-A ball last season. However, it came in the high-altitude Pioneer League at Ogden, so that number should be taken with a grain of salt. The 13 errors in 38 games at shortstop is also concerning. Brito is a project, but he has a lot of time to work on his game, as the Blue Jays’ bounty of middle-infield prospects means there is no need to rush any of them.

 

The other player, Sopko, may have a better chance at making an impact. The 24-year-old from Montana has been primarily used as a starter since being drafted in the seventh round out of Gonzaga in 2015. He reached AA Tulsa last season, and split time between there and A+ Rancho Cucamonga in 2018, posting a combined 3.52 ERA with 121 strikeouts in 117 2/3 innings. What’s really impressive is Sopko’s control. He only walked 27 batters last season, which makes him very attractive as a pitcher who could be very effective with some good defense behind him. Eric Langerhans mentioned him as a potential up-and-down arm at the end of the 2016 campaign when writing about the Dodgers prospects, but that strong 2018 season may have others thinking higher. Don’t be surprised if Sopko is pitching in Buffalo at some point in 2019.

 

 

But this trade isn’t about the haul, it’s about the memories. Russell Martin provided plenty of them in his time in Toronto, and is in the conversation for the greatest Canadian to play for Canada’s team. He was well worth the money that the franchise paid for him He is not scheduled to play north of the border in 2019, but when the Blue Jays visit Chavez Ravine in mid-August, hopefully he is back in the thick of a playoff race and fans can remember the good times all over again.

 

 

 

*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.

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A.J. Andrews

Andrews has been immersed in sports from a young age, since she could read Jr. Jays comics that filtered into the backwoods of Northern Nova Scotia. The Canadian has been blogging about sports since high school, writing on FOX Sports.com’s blogs , her independent Tailpipe Sports blog and Jays Journal prior to joining JFTC. The 30 year old has been with Jays From the Couch since its humble beginnings, and continues to contribute while forging a career in the sports journalism industry. She brings a discerning eye, a smoking keyboard, and a brain that made Jeopardy! briefly rethink letting Canadians onto their program. She will talk about all sports, most Nintendo games, and trans issues for way too long if you give her an opening.