Blue Jays: The catching conundrum

Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images
By @RyanGrosman
December 28, 2017

I have some news for you. And it might come as a shock. Are you sitting down?

Russell Martin is not the Blue Jays’ lord and saviour, Jesus Christ. Though they do have strikingly similar beards.

And contrary to what Gibbons, the fans and the Canadian media believe, he is not the second coming of Johnny Bench. Nor is he anywhere near the Posey-Molina-Perez conversation.

Actually, his defensive and offensive skills have plummeted these past couple seasons. But despite this, he continues to be discussed as one of the better catchers in the league.

Fans and media alike have no issue taking hot, steaming dumps on Kendrys Morales. But go after precious Martin? No way.

Somehow he’s managed to Matrix dodge any and all criticism that’s flown the team’s way.

Is it the friendly smile? Is it because he’s Canadian? Is it because he seems like someone you could toss a few back with? Maybe.

But most likely it’s because everyone still sees him as that great all-star catcher.

Wake up and smell the deteriorating skills. He’s no longer the difference maker he once was.

He’s now an aging, below average catcher who’s making way too much money. And he’s only going to get worse.

Okay. I’ll admit that Martin has certain intangibles.

He’s won everywhere he's played. Los Angeles. New York. Pittsburgh. Every franchise he's played for has made the playoffs. It’s happened too many times for it to be a coincidence.

That includes the Blue Jays who had a 22-year stinkfest before his arrival in 2015.

That was a great season for Martin. He was an all-star catcher, at least offensively. And he brought with him a winning attitude, much like Josh Donaldson.

But that’s where the comparisons to JD stop.

Before I get into why Martin’s a blight on this franchise, let me make one thing clear. I’m not dumping the 2017 season squarely on his shoulders. There’s plenty of blame to go around, including the front office. And some of it was just bad luck.

What I am saying is, if the Jays want to compete for a playoff spot next season, as the front office has said they want to do, Russell Martin starting 100+ games is not the answer.

Defensive deficiencies

You want your regular catcher to either be an excellent defender or such a gigantic offensive threat that it overshadows his shaky D.

Unfortunately, Martin is neither.

I mean, obviously you want a catcher who can do both. But guys like that don’t come around very often.

There’s a perception that Martin’s a great defensive catcher. That’s a load of BS.

Yes, he knows the pitching staff better than anyone. But for the most part, he calls a terrible game, is an average pitch framer, has trouble nailing base thieves and can’t block a ball to save his life.

If a pitcher can’t trust his catcher to keep the ball in front of him, it puts extra pressure on him to make a perfect pitch. And with a man on third, it could mean the difference between collecting a W or going home disappointed.

So why does Martin have such trouble stopping balls? Because he tries to catch everything.

Hey, Russ. Can I call you Russ? Just because the position is called “catcher” doesn't mean you have to catch every pitch. I don’t know – maybe try shifting your body to block balls with your chest protector. You know, that thing strapped to your chest.

Shit, use your face mask. I don’t give a fuck. Just do whatever you have to do to keep the ball in front of you.

Offensive woes

Martin is also thought of as a great offensive catcher. He’s not. At least not the past 2 seasons.

It’s not a slump when you barely hit above .200 for the entire season. That’s called being a horrible hitter.

He’s totally, 100% unreliable.

You can, however, rely on him to hit into a double play in key situations. That he does quite well.

Martin’s last 2 seasons have been pretty damn awful, which makes his defensive shortcomings even more glaring. His offence used to cover up his piss poor defence. That’s just not the case anymore.

Why Gibbons, at times throughout the season, decided to bat him second is totally beyond me. It goes far beyond any rational thought.

What about Martin’s offensive game screams this our 2-hole guy?

Is it his lack of hits? Is it because he swings and misses a ton? Maybe it’s the fact that he doesn’t get on base. Or that he’s slower than a sloth on valium.

He does walk a little. But not nearly enough to make up for his other deficiencies.

Unhealthy outlook

Martin, especially in 2017, has had trouble staying on the field. And chances are he’ll be on the shelf again in 2018. Though, it might not entirely be his fault.

Whether it’s because of his ginormous contract or past effectiveness, Gibby feels the need to play him every god damn day.

Guess what? He’s no spring training chicken any more. He needs his rest. Something that’s not obvious to Gibby or the training staff.

I have to look into it, but I’m pretty sure there’s no commandment that says, “Martin shall play every day.”

He was overused in 2015 and 2016. And again in 2017.

Because of R.A. Dickey, Thole was thrust into the backup role for ’15 and ’16. Was Thole that awful that Martin had to catch 4 out of 5 games? Maybe he was. But who would know since Thole never played.

In those years, Martin only sat out when the trick pitcher toed the mound.

In 2017, which was his age 34 season, his rest days were equally scarce. And in case you’re wondering, playing him at third base DOES NOT constitute a day off.

Gibby, if you’re going to rest him, rest him. Sit his ass down. Stop playing him at third. Or DH. And don’t even think about second.

No wonder he’s hit the DL so many times.

So what’s the alternative?

Trading Martin would be the best option. But at age 35 and 2 years, $40 million remaining on his contract, the Jays are suck with him.

And as long as he’s breathing, Gibby will pencil him in for 100+ starts like he’s still a starting caliber catcher.

That is absolutely the wrong way to go.

If the Jays want to get the most out of Martin and compete in 2018, at the very least he should split equal time with whichever backup they end up going with.

Here’s what I’d be looking for in a second catcher:
  • plus defender (blocking & pitch framing)
  • above average caught stealing %
  • plus game caller
  • average bat
  • average OBP
  • some athleticism
  • somewhat young
  • cheap

The free agent catching market was razor thin to begin with. With the Jays twiddling their thumbs, it’s now so thin you can’t even see it.

Welington Castillo would’ve been the ideal option, but the White Sox have already snatched him up.

Trading for Tyler Flowers of the Atlanta Braves is also a good option, as he’s in the final year of his contract and is making next to nothing. But with the season he had last year and the Braves looking for young talent, they likely won’t give him up for nothing.

Internally, the options include Luke Maile and Danny Jansen, currently at triple-A.

While Jansen could prove to be the better offensive option, he’s still a giant question mark having never stepped foot in the big leagues.

Maile, however, has already proven what he can do in the bigs. And it was awesome.

Yes, Maile batted like .001. But he was playing with a meniscus tear in his knee. Plus, how can you expect anyone to hit when they only play like once a month.

But it’s on the defensive side where he truly proved his worth.

The sad thing is, even while injured, Maile was still a huge step up over Martin. And much more valuable to the team.

Maile’s way better at blocking balls, which gives pitchers more confidence to throw breaking stuff in big situations. Especially with runners on.

He’s a significantly better pitch caller. Plus, he can actually throw guys out with sniper-like accuracy. And not just any guys. Dirt burners like Jean Segura. Deleting guys from the bases can turn around a potentially disastrous inning in a heartbeat.

Martin’s obviously a better hitter than Maile. But it’s not like he ripped the cover off the ball last season.

It would've been nice to see what Maile could do at the plate with a healthy knee. When he finally returned from injury, he got swallowed up by expanded rosters.

In the end, if the Jays can’t find a suitable catcher outside the organization, I’d go with Maile splitting time with Martin.

If Maile keeps doing what he’s doing behind the plate, he can go 0-1000 at the plate for all I care.