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Today In MLBTR: Wednesday, November 19th

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Hotstove season remains in full swing, and should continue to intrigue us at least until its traditional pre-Winter Meetings grinding to a halt for U.S. Thanksgiving, which is a week from Thursday. So let’s put a Jays-related spin on what’s being whispered out there, thanks to the great work of the utterly invaluable MLB Trade Rumors

Before we get into all the rumblings from around the league, a couple non-MLBTR notes:

The Jays have announced that tomorrow they’ll introduce Russell Martin at a press conference here in Toronto. Fun! And via Soundcloud we have a clip of John Gibbons talking about the deal on MLB Network Radio.

Remember that thing Bob McCown was saying about Jon Lester? Um… about that. Here’s something from Monday afternoon that came to use over the course of a pair of tweets from Peter Gammons: “Anthopolous figures Martin impacts about half his roster, loves the leadership, better contact rates. ‘What we do now will probably be trades. We’ll check in on Lester, but we won’t go to six years, and we know we won’t be in.’” So… there’s that.

Don’t go thinking too ill of Alex Anthopoulos just yet though. At least not until you check out this quote from Dave Cameron on yesterday’s edition of FanGraphs Audio: “I think if you include any kind of positive valuation for framing, it seems to be fairly easy to see Martin as a four-win player. And if you think what four-win players at other positions get — Jacoby Ellsbury got $150-million last year; Shin-Soo Choo’s a three-win player and got $140-million? — you know? Eighty-million dollars for a four win player in today’s day in age is a pretty good deal, even for an aging guy who might not be able to play 120 games behind the plate for that much longer.”

Nails much? Now on to the MLBTR stuff…

Just in case AA’s bluffing or something’s changed, we’d better keep an eye on Lester rumours anyway, and in the latest we’re told that the Red Sox have made an offer to their former ace. He “is expected to take his time considering the proposal, and still has several other clubs with significant interest to explore,” yet he also “seems to be the top starter whose market is moving fastest at present.” The Jays are still listed among those with interest — and it’s suggested that the Yankees may have some, as well. It sure would be a hell of a thing to snatch him away from one of those clubs, but at this point I wouldn’t hold my breath. And I especially wouldn’t hold my breath on Pablo Sandoval — who the Jays were linked to earlier in the month — as it’s also noted that the Red Sox are being quite aggressive on him, too. Would completely love to see the Massholes strike out and Panda go back to San Francisco, eh?

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McCown: “May Not Be A Real Limit” To Payroll, Rogers Intends To Use Jays To Burnish Image

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Very interesting stuff from Tuesday night’s edition of Prime Time Sports on the Fan 590 here in Toronto, as noted in the Presented Without Comment… below this post, in which Bob McCown offered his take on the conversations he says he’s been privy to within the halls at Bloor and Jarvis, and what his understanding is of how new CEO Guy Laurence intends to do business with respect to the Jays.

In short: if true it’s very, very, tremendously good news for Jays fans.

The key points: the club wants to spend — they’ve already budgeted for an increase — and ownership is willing to go over-budget if the right deal comes along. Better still, the club specifically wants Jon Lester, but is concerned about the seven-year term he’s asking for. That would almost seem to be more a Beeston concern, though — i.e. the policy — as Rogers, if we’re to believe it, sees tremendous value in repairing their reputation, and thinks that standing behind a well-funded, successful Blue Jays club could be a great way to help do so.

Don’t just take my word for it, though. Here is the full quote from near the beginning of the segment you can hear here, as McCown lays a bunch of inner-workings stuff on co-host Ken Reid before, just as quickly as our nugget of a tangent began, the conversation slips back into typical Toronto radio hockey talk nonsense.

McCOWN: The Blue Jays’ payroll will go up this year. How much is unclear. But there may not be a real limit to it. There’s a real sense that the new CEO of Rogers Communications — Rogers Rogers… whatever it is (it’s not “Rogers Communications”)… the big company — Guy Laurence, the big enchilada. I’m sort of… I’m making some assumptions here, so I don’t want to say this is a fact, but it seems as if he recognizes the potential importance to the corporation of the Blue Jays — perhaps more than the previous administrator. And also understands that the Blue Jays can be a conduit in improving the image of this company.

Some have suggested that — not I, but… — that Rogers is among the most disliked corporations in the country. And it’s understandable, because we get services from Rogers, and any time something goes wrong with those things, we feel like that’s who we have to blame. Now, if you’re with Bell, for example, and your phone doesn’t work or your cable goes down — well, they don’t have cable or whatever it is they have — or any of their other services — their internet services — you get mad at them. So, let’s face it, Rogers is a big, big company. So it’s understandable. But I think this CEO is trying to address that — understands that one of the ways that you curry favour with your clientele is with a product like the Toronto Blue Jays.

REID: So you produce a winning team and everybody loves the owner. Which we see in pretty much every team that wins. Is that what you’re getting at?

McCOWN: I’m alluding to that. And nobody’s told me that exactly, but the inference has been there that if there’s a deal on the table that would take the Blue Jays beyond the increase they’ve already budgeted for, there’s a confidence level that there’d be no issue whatsoever. Like the Jon Lester deal. And what I’m told about Lester is: money isn’t the issue. The Blue Jays are prepared to pay him market value — what he’s looking for. It’s years. He wants seven years.

REID: That would be going against the five year plan. But would this — I’ll call it a P.R. move — would that be enough to bend it?

McCOWN: I don’t know whether this is the deal you break the egg on.

REID: They’re going to have to break that egg at some point. I don’t know if it’s this year, but at some point you’re going to have to just realize that the price of doing business is as much term as it is money — because term is money. I’ll take $20-million a year, but I want it for eight years, not for five, so… that’s 60-million bucks.

McCCOWN: Yeah.


So… weird. It’s like I’m getting deja vu here, and not just because I’ve whined forever about how all the talk we hear about term in these free agent dealings is just a shorthand for more money — as in: Russell Martin didn’t choose the Jays because he really wanted a five year deal more than a four-year one, he did so because the five-year pact was worth $82-million, and the four-year one was topping out around $70-million.

No, I’m getting deja vu because it’s like so much of what’s being talked about here is lifted straight from Kelly Pullen’s October Toronto Life cover story on Edward Rogers III, as well as — if I do say so myself — my own thoughts pivoting off Pollen’s work (which you can see by way of last night’s Presented Without Comment…, in the bottom post at this link).

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Presented Without Comment…

OK, one comment: Sounds like stuff I was writing about Laurence last month. See the post at the bottom here (sorry I don’t have a better link right now).

The Daily Duce: Tuesday, November 18th

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You ain’t gonna diiiiieeeeee, say the freakin’ woooooorrrrrds!

Still plenty of Jussell Martin stuff coming in, and we’ll start with the man who — inadvertently? — broke the story of the Jays signing, Peter Gammons, who quite interestingly looks at the historic difficulty the Jays have had in enticing free agents. “It’s hard to get players to come here by choice,” said the Jays’ GM, “and Toronto is one of the greatest cities in the world.” That GM? Pat Gillick.

Elsewhere at Gammons Daily, David Golebiewski looks at the premium the Jays just paid for pitch framing, and shows an interesting chart demonstrating the difference between the percentage of strikes called on in-zone pitches caught by Martin last year, and by Dioner Navarro. For the three squares in the low part of the zone Navarro’s percentages were 56%, 66%, and 70%. And for Martin? 74%, 85%, and 83%. Think a guy like Aaron Sanchez, who is going to be relying on low strikes, isn’t going to be helped by a thing like that?

Tyler Kepner of the New York Times writes that “if Martin helps the Blue Jays to the playoffs, he could be hailed as a hero in Canada, his native country. Toronto has the longest active playoff drought in the majors, stretching to its World Series title in 1993, but signing Martin is not a move for public relations, or for the short term.”

Martin was the subject of a segment of last night’s Effectively Wild podcast at Baseball Prospectus, where it was noted that he is already the tenth best catcher of all time according to the Baseball Reference version of WAR. Nails much?

Jonah Keri also reacted to the trade over at Grantland, offering these words of caution: “The Pirates, one of the most analytically inclined teams in baseball, likely thought long and hard about catcher age curves in deciding how aggressively they wanted to pursue Martin, a vital player for Pittsburgh in 2014 who deserved serious consideration as a down-ballot MVP candidate. As excellent Pittsburgh Tribune-Review scribe Travis Sawchik recently wrote: Once you strip out anomalous results from the PED era, few players age well once they reach their mid-thirties, and that’s particularly true for catchers.” Hmmm.

WHYGAVS — aka Pirates blog Where Have You Gone Andy van Slyke? — writes a farewell and thank you to Russell Martin. Read it.

That one came my way by way of a tweet from GROF, who himself gives us a must-read take on the Martin signing over at Ghostrunner On First. Read it, too.

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Martin Will Make Just $7-Million In 2015, Fitting Perfectly Into The Jays’ Future Salary Structre

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Holy backloaded!

Jon Heyman of CBS Sports was the first to get the dirt on the salary structure of Russell Martin’s new five-year, $82-million contract, tweeting on Tuesday morning that the yearly breakdown is as follows: $7-million, $15-million, $20-million, $20-million, $20-million.

Make no mistake about it, this is a very, very good thing.

Yes, yes, the natural reaction of the garbage clown, of course, will be to insist that Alex Anthopoulos is leaving a mess for his successor, and that Martin will be that much more difficult to trade. These are not even necessarily untrue points, especially if the 2015 season and the contract both ultimately turn sour.

But please. The positive far outweighs the negative here. Like really, really obviously.

First of all, the average annual value of Martin’s deal is $16.4-million, so by paying him $20-million in the final three years of the deal they’re not actually adding that much to his salary. Sure, they’re his decline years, where the gap between his value and his cost is widening, and that might make it more difficult to move him, or might require the Jays to spend more money to do so. But by the simple fact that they’ve given him this deal the Jays are betting on Martin as an athlete and a guy able to stay healthy and productive, so shying away from big outlays at the back end doesn’t really make sense.

Sure, in an ideal world you’d be paying him less money in the years when he’s expected to provide less value, but this is hardly an ideal world, and the Martin contract has actually been structured to fit the Jays’ salary commitments quite perfectly.

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Russell Reax: Money Quotes In The Wake Of The Jays’ Big Signing

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We’ve nearly had a day to let it sink in now and it still seems a little bit surreal: the Jays signed Russell Martin. To a massive free agent contract. To be their decent-hitting, defense-first, elite pitch-framing catcher. For five years.

I’ve been in such a fog that I’ve barely been calling him Jussell.

But with the dust settling, and my thoughts already made clear, let’s have a look at what everybody else is saying, shall we? Specifically (mostly) with some money quotes from around the local papers, and several major voices around the league…

“Conceptually, the move resembles the Royals’ trade for James Shields two offseasons ago,” writes Jon Morosi of Fox Sports, who notes that  The team hadn’t reached the postseason in more than two decades, and its general manager needed to send a message — to fans and, more important, the roster — that expectations had changed. Within two years, Shields started Game 1 of the World Series.

“Based on market rates, for $82 million, the Jays are paying Martin to be worth something on the order of 10 – 11 wins. Historically, for catchers between the ages of 29 – 31, Martin’s been around the 85th percentile. For those catchers over the next five years, through age 36, the 85th percentile has been worth about 10 – 11 wins. It’s simple, but it works,” explains Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs. In his conclusion he gets even more positive: “At the catcher position, the Jays just upgraded their durability, discipline, power, running, blocking, throwing, and receiving. Though we don’t have numbers for it, the Jays also seem to have upgraded their leadership, and in the overall picture, the Jays significantly upgraded their team and therefore their 2015 playoff prospects. Like most free-agent contracts, this one’ll look worse a few years down the road, but Martin ought to age somewhat gracefully, as he’ll be declining from a hell of a peak.”

“There is no shortage of teams in need of a catcher,” says Mike Axisa of CBS Sports, seeing a rather large ancillary benefit of this deal for the Jays. “The Cubs and Pirates, who lost out on Martin, could have interest. The Dodgers are said to be seeking an upgrade over A.J. Ellis. The Rockies, Red Sox, White Sox, Athletics and Rangers could all use another catcher to some extent. Some club will happily take a $5 million Dioner Navarro off Toronto’s hands. Maybe the Blue Jays could net a pitcher or the second baseman they still need in the process.”

“It seems almost certain now that the Blue Jays will look to offer contract extensions to Encarnacion and Bautista before the 2016 season, prior to them hitting free agency. If that scenario unfolds, consider that the Blue Jays will be looking to reach agreements with stars that will be 34 and 35, respectively, in a universe where 35-year-old Victor Martinez just got a four-year, $68-million contract from the Detroit Tigers, or where Martin — who will be 33 in 2016 — will be in the second year of a contract paying him $16.4 million,” opines Michael Grange for Sportsnet. “Doubling-down wasn’t the Blue Jays’ only option, but it is the path Anthopoulos has chosen. It’s expensive and comes with risks and high expectations. It also means the Blue Jays have passed any opportunity to reshape their organization by selling their veterans at peak value.”

In the Globe and Mail, Cathal Kelly tells an anecdote of Alex Anthopoulos, during his tenure as the GM of a Major League Baseball team, looking for a new car and settling on a Honda — on a lease! “A son of working-class immigrants, a man who treats other people’s money as he would his own and someone who exercises caution in all his dealings,” is how Anthopoulos is described in the piece. “That’s what makes the Russell Martin deal significant. This is Anthopoulos going against his basic nature.”

“For a born-and-bred Canuck, for easily the top catcher in the free-agent class (if not the only viable everyday option in the free-agent class), for a guy whose pitch-framing, game-calling prowess, offensive impact and conditioning diligence make him a better bet than most to age gracefully behind the plate, for an organization that needs to have a win-now mentality, the reported five-year, $82 million commitment the Blue Jays are making to Russell Martin makes sense,” writes Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com, about to turn the screw. “If only it weren’t necessary in the first place.” The obvious reason? Yan Gomes.

It’s eye-rolling hobby horse time in the Toronto Sun, as Steve Simmons goes with hockey-ish horseshit in the hilariously-titled Blue Jays are Martin’s team now, saying that “his will represent a culture change around the Blue Jays as Martin becomes the captain of the club without a ‘C.’ He does that with teams.” Simmons also celebrates the departures of Colby Rasmus, Adam Lind, Brandon Morrow, and Anthony Gose, who he has dumbly decided he’s divined through his TV screen were “the underachieving, the laissez-faire and the barely interested.” His ability to dumb the discourse down to sub-moron level is truly unparalleled.

And elsewhere in the Sun, shock of all shocks, Bob Elliott lathers up a big ol’ maple-flavoured dildo for insertion into Gordie maple-six-pack’s favourite maple-orifice. (It’s actually a fine piece, just thick with entirely as much mapleness as you’d expect).

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Russell Martin Is A Blue Jay, And If That Paves The Way For Melky’s Exit, So Be It

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How many extra season tickets sold does $82-million buy?

As much as I think this is almost entirely a “baseball acquisition,” that’s sort of an interesting question in the wake of the Jays signing East York-born, Montreal-raised catcher Russell Martin to a five-year free agent contract worth that exorbitant amount, huh?

But hold on. Let me write that again, just for shits and giggles: the Toronto Blue Jays have signed East York-born, Montreal-raised catcher Russell Martin to a five-year free agent contract worth $82-million. They might not even be done spending yet, either, but there’s no need to get greedy here right now. Not until we digest just what the hell happened today.

Let’s actually start with the negative, because there certainly is plenty of that here, and plenty of fans ready to cling to it. The deal is a gamble, like all massive free agent contracts are. Martin turns 32 in February. He’ll be 36 in the final year of the deal, and maybe not a young 36 after five seasons crouching on the Rogers Centre concrete (unless we really believe there will be grass in there by 2018). He’s had an up-and-down career as a hitter: spectacular in his second and third full seasons, with the Dodgers in 2007 and 2008, then league average at best for five full years (95 wRC+, .234/.332/.370), before a BABIP-driven spike in production coincided with his walk year. Martin is projected to be worth 3.8 WAR in 2015 by Steamer, but in his catchers buyers’ guide at ESPN.com earlier this month, Keith Law noted that ZiPS has him generating just 10.8 WAR over the next three years, and wrote that “Buster Olney wrote on Oct. 28 that his guess at a Martin contract would be four years and $50-60 million; the projections and the scouting reports would call that an overpay.” He’s also a right-handed bat being added to a lineup that’s already pretty right-handed-heavy. And he’s an addition at a position where the Jays didn’t seem so terrible in 2014 — Dioner Navarro’s 2.0 WAR ranked fifth among Jays position players, and Jeff Blair tweets that the Jays have told Martin “he will catch, not play 3B or any place else, even spot duty.” He’s also an addition that will not only cost the club their first round draft pick, but likely takes away a good chunk of their ability to do other things on the free agent market. And this is, of course, money that wouldn’t have needed to be spent in this area if the Jays had just been keen enough to hang on to either Travis d’Arnaud or Yan Gomes.

These concerns aren’t mere footnotes to be slipped in at the bottom of a post lavishing praise on the Jays, Anthopoulos, and Rogers for finally stepping up to the plate after just over two years in the wilderness. These things need to be front and centre.

With some context, though, I think a lot of those negatives disappear. Or, at the very least, are mitigated enough to end up loving this deal — which, frankly, you probably should anyway simply because THE JAYS JUST SIGNED RUSSELL MARTIN. (And, maybe more importantly, because Russell Martin apparently believes in the Jays enough not to look at their offer and think, “Well that’s going to end up a total disaster!” – though I suppose he has 82-million reasons to feel that way).

But obviously such an exclamation doesn’t pass for any type of serious analysis, so let’s go through some of these concerns, shall we?

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