The MLB offseason is just getting started, but key free agents have fallen off the board, and not every contract handed out so far will pay off.

Buying early has its advantages. It allows teams to address needs in a timely fashion and to gain clarity on their remaining priorities. But pre-winter splurges carry risks as well, most notably the dreaded overpay.

That label has been slapped on a few of the deals handed out so far.

At least one doesn’t fit the bill: that of catcher Russell Martin, who inked a five-year, $82 million pact with the Toronto Blue Jays on Nov. 20.

On the surface, that sounds like a lot of coin to toss at a veteran backstop entering his age-32 season. It’s certainly fair to wonder if Martin will produce in the latter stages of the contract.

And because Martin received and rejected the qualifying offer from the Pittsburgh Pirates, he’ll cost Toronto a draft pick.

But we’re not simply talking about a guy coming off a .290/.402/.430 season, though that’s a nice enough slash line, particularly at a position where offense is a bonus.

We’re talking about one of the better defensive catchers in baseball, the 10th-best pitch-framer, per, and the man who threw out an MLB-leading 37 would-be base stealers, per

More than that, Martin is an acknowledged clubhouse leader, a player loaded with that mythical quality every squad covets: intangibles.

As the Pirates marched to the postseason last year,‘s Gabe Kapler called 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,” Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos told‘s Gregor Chisholm. “[He’s] the total package, as far as I’m concerned.”

Martin was born in Toronto, so the union marks a homecoming of sorts. It’s also the first time the Jays have given more than three years and $16 million to any free agent on Anthopoulos’ watch.

As Chisholm notes:

The strength of Toronto’s future clearly lies within its rotation. Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Drew Hutchison, along with promising prospects such as Jeff Hoffman are expected to be the strength of this organization for many years to come, and in order to maximize that talent, an elite receiver such as Martin was required.

So Toronto was looking for a field general, someone to wrangle and harness its biggest asset. Add the hometown hero aspect, and the fact that Martin should be able to sustain his offensive output in the hitter-friendly AL East, and suddenly this “overpay” looks like a downright bargain. 

Compare Martin’s contract with the one the Boston Red Sox gave Hanley Ramirez, per Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal:

The 30-year-old Ramirez is slightly younger than Martin, but his .283/.369/.448 line compares unfavorably when you consider he’s a corner infielder who may be moving to a corner outfield spot, as The Boston Globe‘s Pete Abraham notes:

There’s also Ramirez’s injury history and his reputation as a malcontent. It’s possible he and fellow free-agent arrival Pablo Sandoval will pan out in Boston, but it smells like a gamble.

Speaking of gambles, how about Michael Cuddyer, who signed a two-year, $21 million pact with the New York Mets on Nov. 10?

Yes, the years and dollars are more modest, but Cuddyer spent an extended stint on the disabled list last year, playing in just 49 games with the Colorado Rockies. 

And because Colorado (somewhat inexplicably) offered Cuddyer the qualifying offer, the Mets coughed up a pick to nab him.

According to Newsday‘s Marc Carig, New York GM Sandy Alderson liked Cuddyer because of “his power from the right side and his ability to fit into the Mets’ hitting philosophy.”

OK, fine. But we’re talking about a 35-year-old with declining numbers who missed more than two-thirds of the previous campaign.

Again, the offseason is young. The winter meetings approach. We’re a long way from knowing which deals will stand out as savviest and which will look like bright crimson flags.

Whatever transpires the rest of the way, however, Toronto’s decision to lock up Martin appears sound, though time, as ever, is the final arbiter. 


All statistics courtesy of unless otherwise noted.

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