When Marcus Stroman’s knee went, it didn’t take the Toronto Blue Jays‘ playoff hopes with it. 

Stroman is a key cog in the Jays’ rotation and the news that the 23-year-old right-hander is out for the season with a torn ACL was a painful blow, no doubt. 

Toronto can weather this storm, though, thanks to a guy who won’t throw a single pitch in 2015: Russell Martin.

Whatever route the team takes to fill the Stroman-sized hole on its roster, Martin will be the glue that holds the whole thing together. That’s why the Blue Jays snatched up the Canadian-born catcher, inking him to a five-year, $82 million deal before Thanksgiving.

It was the biggest free-agent payday ever awarded on general manager Alex Anthopoulos’ watch, though it was quickly overshadowed by the blockbusters that followed elsewhere.

Martin, however, could prove to be among the most important offseason additions, under-the-radar or otherwise, for any team.

Yes, he’s coming off the best offensive season of his career, during which he hit .290 with 11 home runs and a gaudy .402 on-base percentage for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Yes, he’s among the game’s elite defensive backstops, the 10th-best pitch-framer in baseball, per Statcorner, and a guy who gunned down an MLB-leading 37 would-be base stealers, per ESPN.com.

And, double yes, the Jays are hoping he can replicate those numbers north of the border.

More than that, Martin brings an intangible, essential quality: leadership.

Last season, as the Pirates were pushing toward a second-straight playoff appearance (after a 21-year drought), FoxSports.com‘s Gabe Kapler dubbed Martin “an extra coach on the field.” 

“As much money as we’ve spent and the commitment that we’ve made, you can’t feel better where we’re putting our dollars and who we’re giving it to,” Anthopoulos told MLB.com‘s Gregor Chisholm in November. “[He’s] the total package, as far as I’m concerned.”

With questions suddenly swirling around the team’s starting five, the signing appears more prescient than ever.

It’s possible Toronto will bring in pitching from the outside, either now or at the trade deadline. Another option is to call up Daniel Norris and/or Aaron Sanchez, the franchise’s top two prospects according to Baseball America

However, as Fox Sports‘ Jim Morosi notes, Toronto’s inexperienced arms would be tossed headlong into the hitter-friendly American League East; if they struggle, the bullpen might also get squeezed. Here’s more from Morosi:

Sanchez, 22, has thrown 33 innings in the majors, with zero starts; Norris, 21, has 6.2 innings and one start. History suggests it’s unreasonable to expect both to surpass 170 innings this year. Since 1980, according to STATS LLC, only 10 teams have had two pitchers begin a season with fewer than 40 career major-league innings and then pitch 170 innings that year.

Managing the team’s young arms and balancing the workload of those arms against the pen’s will fall primarily to manager John Gibbons and pitching coach Pete Walker. But what an asset for them to have that “extra coach” in the squat.

“He makes each man feel significant out on the mound, like he’s the best guy there,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said recently of his former field general, per Ian Denomme of Yahoo Sports Canada. “He brings an edge every day to the team that he’s gonna find a way to beat the other team. Bat, glove, legs, mind, whatever it takes.”

What will it take for the Jays to win a wide-open AL East and end their two decades-plus postseason drought? Another exemplary effort from Martin.

He’s not the only player shouldering the load, obviously. Third baseman Josh Donaldson, acquired from the Oakland A’s, and outfielder Jose Bautista combined for 12.7 WAR last season, per FanGraphs

Martin, though, is the hub, the fulcrum, choose your clumsy metaphor. He’s the reason the Blue Jays can withstand the Stroman storm—and fly north with their hopes intact.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted. 

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