Blue Jays say they have a 'winner' in Martin

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Two things you may have noticed about October over the last decade or so:

Russell Martin seems to show up playing postseason baseball in pretty much every one of those Octobers.

And the Toronto Blue Jays seem to show up in none of them.

So in a related development, Russell Martin is with the Blue Jays now. But hey, at least they're not asking much of him.

Other than to be the most famous Canadian baseball player on Earth. ... And hit the way he did last year. ... And transform a pitching staff that finished 22nd in the big leagues in ERA last season. ... And especially -- did we bury the lead here? -- to work his magic to help end the longest postseason drought in any of the four major North American professional sports. (That would be 21 consecutive years, in case you stopped paying attention after Joe Carter finished rounding the bases back in October 1993.)

Yeah, that's all. Oh, and if this guy could make the Blue Jays look really brilliant for signing him to the richest free-agent contract in the history of their franchise (five years, $82 million), that would be excellent too, eh?

And so, on Monday, the Blue Jays' new miracle worker in shin guards arrived for work, on his new team's first day of spring training. Postseason tickets haven't gone on sale yet at ticket outlets across Ontario. But make no mistake about it. That's what Russell Martin is here for.

"He's a winner," GM Alex Anthopoulos said the day he announced Martin's signing last November. "Everywhere he goes, he seems to win."

Yeah, what a coincidence. Of the last seven postseasons, Martin's teams have appeared in six of them. He has caught in 37 postseason games in that time, the third most in the sport, behind only Yadier Molina (55) and Carlos Ruiz (43). And he has done it for three different teams, by the way -- the only three he played for, naturally.

Of course, two of those teams were the Dodgers and Yankees, who weren't exactly in their first October rodeos at the time. But the third team was a little different story. That would be the Pittsburgh Pirates, who hadn't even seen the north side of Mount .500 in the previous 21 years when Martin rolled into town in 2013.

Two seasons and two visits to the postseason later, the Pirates are still reeling from watching the Martin bidding spin out of their price range this winter.

"Russell was more than just a catcher,” Pirates closer Mark Melancon told ESPN.com this week. "He was a pillar. He was the reason for our success here, just because of his position, and his demeanor. Calm. Confident. Hard-working. Athlete. Leader."

And the Blue Jays got a taste of all of those qualities in just their first glimpse of Martin on Monday. He caught rising phenom Daniel Norris' bullpen session, tapping Norris approvingly on the shoulder afterward. He chatted up knuckleball king R.A. Dickey, whom the Jays desperately want him to catch.

And it was hard to miss seeing Martin share a laugh, and a long conversation, with the catcher he deposed, Dioner Navarro, in the bullpen during Monday's workout, then expressing empathy afterward for the "tough situation" Navarro finds himself in after not being traded after Martin's signing.

But Martin's biggest challenge in Toronto is to resurrect the same drought-busting act he was so brilliant at in Pittsburgh. The Pirates had the longest postseason-free streak in the National League when he arrived. His new team has a streak just as long in progress now. But there are huge differences between these two situations, he says.

"The difference with Pittsburgh," Martin said Monday, "is they had like 20 losing seasons in a row, which is not the case with the Blue Jays. ... They haven't had a history of having 20 sub-.500 seasons in a row. That's crazy."

Well, he'd be accurate about that. The Blue Jays have actually had 10 winning seasons during their postseason schneid, including an 83-win season last year in which they spent 61 days in first place from April to early July.

But they were also a team that sputtered along at 10 games under .500 in their final 100 games. And unlike the Pirates, who already had the look of a franchise that was building toward something when Martin arrived, the Blue Jays are a franchise at a crossroads.

If they make the playoffs, all will be beautiful. If they don't, it wouldn't shock anyone if their entire front office and coaching staff will be gone. But Martin said Monday that's not something he can allow to penetrate his psyche right now.

"If you think about the future, it can play tricks on you a little bit," he said. "And you can't really control the past. It's already over with. The best thing to do is obviously be conscious of the future, but try and keep it in the moment and do what you're supposed to do today, one day at a time. Obviously there's going to be pressure. There's all kinds of pressure. But I kind of perceive pressure as an opportunity."

And one of those opportunities is to make an impact on a team that has subtracted a bunch of negative personalities and replaced them with the positivity of players like Martin and Josh Donaldson. There is nothing accidental about those additions or those subtractions. And Russell Martin understands that one of his greatest attributes is his bottomless supply of positive energy.

"I like to keep things positive, play hard, play with passion," he said. "Really, I just try to lead by example and the way I go about it. So if I don't do something the right way, or if I'm not hustling, I don't mind anybody getting on me. It's all about the team. It's all about winning. If you have that attitude and keep that in mind, numbers don't mean that much."

He should know that the Blue Jays did crunch a ton of his numbers before signing him. They know, for instance, that he's ranked among the pitch-framing leaders for eight straight seasons, that he ranks second only to Yadier Molina in defensive Wins Above Replacement over those eight seasons and that last season he set a career high in on-base percentage (.402).

But let's repeat this one more time: That's not why he's here. There's a big reason this team was willing to overlook the risks inherent in paying a catcher massive dollars through age 36. And you can sum it up in one word: winning.

"Playing the game of baseball," he said Monday, "is more than just getting hits and driving runs in. ... It's just playing the game of baseball the right way and that's pretty much what I'm about."