JAYS UNLOAD MARTIN FOR PROSPECTS
Canadian-born catcher moving back to Los Angeles
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$20million 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 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.