The Toronto Blue Jays made a big splash in the free-agent market, agreeing to terms with free agent catcher Russell Martin on a five-year, $82 million contract.
Most Wins Above Replacement in 2014
Primary Position: Catcher
The Blue Jays were one of several teams in need of a catcher. Martin was the best one on the market. He ranked second among catchers with 5.5 Wins Above Replacement in 2014, trailing only Jonathan Lucroy’s 6.7.
Martin brings value on both the offensive and defensive sides.
Filling a significant need
Blue Jays catchers ranked 22nd, 27th and 22nd in OPS over the last three seasons.
Martin posted an .832 OPS last season, fourth-best among those whose primary position was catcher (minimum 300 plate appearances).
Martin had a .402 on-base percentage last season, highest among catchers. He’s the second NL catcher to have an on-base percentage of .400 or higher in the last three seasons. No NL catchers did so from 2001 to 2011.
Martin’s other value: Defensive excellence
Martin has been widely praised for his defensive work the last couple of seasons. He led major-league catchers with 12 Defensive Runs Saved, half of which came from his ability to prevent stolen bases.
Opposing basestealers were safe on 68 percent of their attempts against Martin, the fifth-best rate (in other words, fifth-lowest) for a catcher. His 28 caught stealings ranked second in the majors to Rene Rivera of the Padres (29).
Martin is also highly-regarded for his pitch-framing abilities. In 2014, his primary skill in that regard was in making sure pitches in the strike zone were called strikes.
He got strikes on 85.5 percent of taken pitches in the zone, 12th-highest among the 42 catchers who caught the most pitches last season. That’s about 2.5 extra strikes for every 100 of those pitches above what an average catcher would get.
New trend: 5-year deals for top free-agent catchers
Martin is the second catcher to sign a free-agent contract for at least five years in as many seasons (Brian McCann with the Yankees last season).
From the 2000-01 offseason to the 2012-13 offseason, only one free-agent catcher signed a five-year contract: Charles Johnson re-signed with the Marlins in the 2000-2001 offseason.
The Blue Jays have shown a willingness to raise their payroll to bring in name talent. Their opening-day payroll in 2012 was $84 million, which ranked in the bottom 10 among teams. In 2014, it was $137 million, which pushed them into the top 10.