Blue Jays ship catcher Russell Martin off to La-La Land for intriguing prospects

Revue de presse

Steve Buffury, Montréal Gazette, le 12 janvier 2019

Russell Martin

No doubt Russell Martin is thrilled to be heading to Los Angeles, and not just because the weather is nice.

The veteran catcher looked as if he was suffocating in Toronto at times last season and will be getting a fresh start with a team he is very familiar with. The Jays traded Martin on Friday to his former club, the L.A. Dodgers, for a couple of interesting prospects, 19-year-old shortstop Ronny Brito and right-handed pitcher Andrew Sopko. Jays GM Ross Atkins deserves kudos for being able to ship out the aging Martin and his $20 million contract (though the Jays will eat $16.4 million of that) and getting something decent in return. Whether Brito and the 24-year-old Sopko eventually progress into quality major league players, nobody knows for sure. But both are intriguing talents, particularly Brito, whom has been described as having Gold Glove talent at short.

The Jays did not want Martin around for another season, despite the fact that he is one of the best at calling a game, framing pitches and generally lifting pitching staffs. The 2018 season was a nightmare for the Toronto-born catcher. Martin, who turns 36 next month, had a down season offensively in 2018, hitting .194 with eight doubles, 10 home runs, and 56 walks over 90 games.

Worse than that, he looked like he was ready to snap at times, and did lose his cool near the end of the season when he was asked how he felt about not playing in September. Martin graciously agreed to step back in the final month of the season to allow rising young stars Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire to handle most of the duties behind the plate, but he clearly wasn’t happy. And you couldn’t blame him.

The Montreal-raised catcher has been a winner throughout his major league career, and not playing on a team going nowhere fast was extremely frustrating, though the Jays did go out of their way to appease the veteran catcher. Manager John Gibbons let him play around the infield during the season and Martin actually managed the final game of the year. But his offensive skills have eroded considerably the last couple of seasons and the writing was on the wall. His wRC+ over the last three years were 101, 101 and 91 and now the four-time all-star joins the list of other aging stars who have been shipped out of Toronto, including Josh Donaldson, J.A. Happ and, Troy Tulowitzki. With Rowdy Tellez waiting in the wings, It’s likely first baseman Justin Smoak is next.

Via his Twitter account, Martin thanked the organization and Toronto fans.

“It was truly an amazing ride,” he said.

Atkins had nothing but praise for Martin.

“I think the world of Russ,” said the GM. “I told him on the phone, he’s one of the toughest individuals I’ve ever watched play the game of baseball.”

Through jaded eyes, and most non-Rogers employed journalists suffer from that affliction, Brito might not seem like much of a prospect. He was No. 23 on the Dodgers’ prospect list and his bat has been nothing to write home about. But the young infielder’s defence is said to be world class. He signed for $2 million out of the Dominican Republic as an international free agent by the Dodgers but missed most of 2017 after suffering a broken leg while turning a double play, though he bounced back to have a strong 2018. His offensive numbers are trending upwards and Toronto’s prospects at short are getting more exciting all the time, with Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Bo Bichette, Richard Urena and now Brito. He is a switch hitter and over three minor league seasons, Brito the shortstop has combined to hit .259 with 32 doubles, six triples, 15 home runs, and 104 RBI in 148 games.

As for Sopko, the Missoula, Mont. native was the Dodgers’ seventh-round pick in 2015 out of Gonzaga. He’s had a bit of an up-and-down minor-league career but did show signs of figuring things out in 2018. Sopko has posted a career minor league record of 27-17 while recording a 3.61 ERA and 363 strikeouts over 394.1 innings. His fastball sits in the low-90’s and touches 95 MPH, though he’s a fly ball hitter and that might not play well at the Rogers Centre if he ever makes it to the Bigs. His primary off-speed pitch is a mid-70’s, 12-6 curve ball. He also throws a change up. His acquisition is a continuation of Atkins’ goal of increasing pitching depth in the organization.

“We’ve got significant work to do in our organization,” said Atkins. “(But) when our talent does transition and is realizing their potential at the major league level, it’s going to be extremely exciting in this country.”

On another front, Atkins said he expects newly-acquired reliever David Phelps, who suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow last March and missed the entire season, to be ready for spring training … Another right-handed reliever, Ryan Tepera, is the Jays only arbitration case heading to a hearing. The team came to agreements with eight others.

Revue de presse publiée par Jacques Lanciault

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