Blue Jays deal Martin to Dodgers

Cana­dian-born catcher mov­ing back to Los Angeles

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - FRONT PAGE - STEVE BUF­FERY SBuf­[email protected]­media.com Twit­ter @Beez­er­sun

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

The vet­eran catcher looked like he was suf­fo­cat­ing in Toronto last year and will get a fresh start with a team he’s fa­mil­iar with.

The Jays traded Martin on Fri­day to his for­mer club, the 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 US$20-mil­lion con­tract (though the Jays will eat most of that) and get­ting some­thing de­cent in re­turn.

Whether Brito and the 24-yearold Sopko even­tu­ally progress into qual­ity ma­jor-league play­ers, no­body knows. Both are in­trigu­ing tal­ents, par­tic­u­larly Brito, who has been de­scribed as hav­ing Gold Glove tal­ent at short.

The Jays did not want Martin around for an­other sea­son, even though he’s one of the best at calling a game, fram­ing pitches and lift­ing his pitch­ing staff. 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 just .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 ca­reer, and sit­ting on the bench for a team go­ing nowhere fast had to be ex­tremely frus­trat­ing. But his of­fen­sive skills have eroded con­sid­er­ably the last cou­ple of sea­sons and the writ­ing was on the wall. Via his Twit­ter ac­count, Martin thanked the or­ga­ni­za­tion and Toronto fans. “It was truly an amaz­ing ride,” he said. Atkins had noth­ing but praise. “I think the world of Russ,” the GM said. “I told him on the phone, he’s one of the tough­est in­di­vid­u­als I’ve ever watched play the game of base­ball.”

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 was signed for $2 mil­lion out of the Do­mini­can Repub­lic as an in­ter­na­tional free agent by the Dodgers, but missed most of 2017 after break­ing a leg, though he bounced back to have a strong 2018.

His of­fen­sive num­bers are trend­ing up. He is a switch hit­ter and over three mi­nor-league sea­sons has 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. Sopko has 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 90s and touches 95 m.p.h., 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-70s, 12-6 curve ball. He also throws a change-up.

“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.”

Atkins said he ex­pects newly ac­quired re­liever David Phelps, who missed an en­tire sea­son with an el­bow in­jury, to be ready for spring train­ing. An­other right-handed re­liever, Ryan Tepera, is the Jays’ only ar­bi­tra­tion case head­ing to a hear­ing.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS/FILES

The Toronto Blue Jays have con­tin­ued their off-sea­son house­clean­ing with the trade of vet­eran catcher Rus­sell Martin to the Los Angeles Dodgers for a cou­ple of prospects.

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