SPORTS

Blue Jays sign Canadian catcher Russell Martin to US$82-million, five-year deal

11/18/2014 10:29 EST | Updated 01/18/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - Canada's Russell Martin is a three-time all-star who has some pop at the plate to go with his top-flight defensive skills.

The new Toronto Blue Jays catcher is also known for his poise, game-calling ability and pitch framing skills — attributes that don't show up in the boxscore but can still have a big impact.

"He's got a lot of emotion, a lot of passion and a lot of desire," said Baseball Canada coach and national teams director Greg Hamilton. "But he's just able to slow things down and play under control. That's the thing that I've always respected in Russ's game. He's able to slow the game down and really have control of the game, the pace of the game.

"You see some players that are always in a hurry. They're trying to catch up to the game and it's anything but with Russ. He is always very gathered, very controlled. It's a special player that can do that and he was able to do that from a young age."

Martin joined the Canadian junior team in 1999 and later played for the national senior team at the 2003 Olympic qualifier and the 2009 World Baseball Classic.

The 31-year-old Toronto native, who grew up in Chelsea, Que., signed a US$82-million, five-year deal with the Blue Jays this week after spending the last two seasons in Pittsburgh. The Blue Jays announced the free-agent signing Tuesday morning.

A team spokesman said the Blue Jays are planning to introduce Martin at a news conference Thursday.

The five-foot-10 205-pounder has a career .259 average with 119 home runs and 540 RBIs in nine seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and Pirates. His teams have reached the playoffs on seven occasions.

Hamilton said in addition to his impressive statistics, Martin is a people person who has the ability to improve a pitcher's comfort zone.

"He really is able to manage their approach and their game days in a way that keeps them focused and keeps them controlled," he said. "And he's a very gifted defensive player."

Martin played 111 games for the Pirates last season and hit .290 with 11 homers and 67 RBIs. The 2007 Gold Glover had a .402 on-base percentage and threw out 39 per cent of would-be base stealers.

Hamilton said one of Martin's standout positional skills is his ability to take a mid-90's fastball — even one that is sinking — and stabilize it while presenting it over the plate so that an umpire is comfortable seeing it.

"It's so subtle that you don't even recognize it really when you're watching the game unless you're really focusing on that," Hamilton said from his Ottawa office. "But again, it's back to how soft his hands are and how controlled he is in terms of being able to receive with balance."

"It's not that he takes a non-strike and makes it a strike," Hamilton added. "It's that he takes a borderline pitch that's on the black and receives it with ease. And he's able to show it to the umpire in a way which it continues (to) be a strike as opposed to it carrying out of the strike zone."

The Toronto pitching staff is anchored by veterans Mark Buehrle and R.A. Dickey and includes youngsters Marcus Stroman and Drew Hutchison. The fifth spot appears to be up in the air but could go to J.A. Happ, newly acquired Marco Estrada or rising star Aaron Sanchez.

Martin's contract is backloaded — he will get $7 million next year, $15 million in 2016 and $20 million in each of the final three seasons. He's coming off a $17-million, two-year deal with Pittsburgh and turned down a $15.3-million qualifying offer from the Pirates last week.

The signing means Toronto forfeits its first-round pick (17th) in June's draft while Pittsburgh will receive a compensatory pick between the first and second rounds. Toronto will receive a compensatory pick if outfielder Melky Cabrera, who turned down a qualifying offer from the Blue Jays, signs elsewhere.

Martin's contract is the biggest one handed out by general manager Alex Anthopoulos since taking over from J.P. Ricciardi in October 2009. It's the second-biggest contract ever for the Blue Jays, trailing only the $126-million, seven-year deal given to outfielder Vernon Wells following the 2006 season.

The Blue Jays have a club policy that limits free-agent contracts to a maximum of five years.

The addition of Martin also boosts the Canadian content on the country's lone Major League Baseball team. He joins infielder Brett Lawrie of Langley, B.C., and outfielder Dalton Pompey of Mississauga, Ont., on the active roster.

"They're not average players, they're guys that have a lot of dimension to what they can do on both sides of the baseball, both offensively and defensively," Hamilton said. "They can change games in multi-faceted ways which is exciting to see."

Catcher Dioner Navarro was Toronto's lone free-agent acquisition last off-season, signing a $8-million, two-year deal. Navarro is owed $5 million for 2015.

The Blue Jays also have catcher Josh Thole, whose primary role is catching Dickey's knuckleball.

Martin's contract is similar to the one Brian McCann signed with the New York Yankees last off-season. But McCann was about two years younger when he agreed to an $85-million, five-year deal.

Martin reached the major leagues with the Dodgers in 2006 and spent five years with Los Angeles. He signed with the New York Yankees in 2011.

The Blue Jays settled for a third-place finish in the American League East last season with an 83-79 record. Toronto last reached the post-season in 1993.

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Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

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With files from The Associated Press.

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