One morning in Dunedin this spring, John Gibbons was holding forth on the virtues of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the veteran catcher with the long resume and the name that confounds whoever has to fill out the lineup card.
Good guy, nice hitter, very capable catcher, was the sum of Gibbons’ feelings. He said the Blue Jays were very excited to have him.
But then, just to be clear: “Russ is our guy.”
It was an unnecessary postscript. Russell Martin is quite obviously their guy. Since his arrival in 2015, Gibbons has rarely missed the opportunity to credit Martin for his role in reversing Toronto’s fortunes. Quite how he has done this is not as easy to figure out. Gibbons cites the usual factors like toughness, attitude and leadership, the intangibles cocktail that most baseball people believe exists, even if it can’t quite be sussed out by the numbers.
But Martin, 34, is now a slightly above average offensive player who will make US$20-million for each of the next three seasons. That is a lot even if his production at the plate — 20 home runs, 75 RBI or so — doesn’t decline any further. How much is all that intangible grit worth?
Quite a lot, actually.
A survey of the Toronto pitching staff in Dunedin returned enthusiastic agreement to the question of whether a catcher can have a significant impact on run prevention. Martin, at the time, was off being a coach for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic, so it wasn’t like any of the pitchers needed to worry about getting the stink eye from him if they answered in the negative. But everyone, from Marco Estrada to Jason Grilli to Mat Latos, said that they believe a good catcher can make their life easier,…
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