Russell Martin had a brutal start to the season, hitting .150 over 60 at-bats in April. He was even worse in the final month, posting a .148 average in 81 at-bats. However, in the four months sandwiched between, Martin hit .295 with 16 home runs and 67 RBI. Overall, the catcher tallied similar numbers to what he had the previous year, although Martin's power dipped a bit in 2016. Most alarming about the veteran's recent campaign is the career-high 27.7 percent strikeout rate -- up from 20.9 percent in 2015 and up more than 10 percentage points from his career 17.4 percent mark. This could be a sign that Martin's bat speed is declining. Father Time is certainly chasing down Martin, but there doesn't appear to be another catcher in the organization ready to challenge him for the spot. He's only in the third year of a five-year, $82 million contract, putting him in position for another busy year at age-34 in 2017.
Manager John Gibbons said Martin's workload this season will largely depend on how much the catcher wants to take on, Corey Long of MLB.com reports. Gibbons' statement is encouraging for owners who drafted Martin. According to FanGraphs, the veteran has handled more innings than any other American League catcher over the past three seasons, and the addition of Jarrod Saltalamacchia was seen as a move made to lessen the load on Martin. Volume is a big factor in valuing today's fantasy catchers, and the 34-year-old will apparently have a chance to surpass 440 at-bats for a third straight campaign.
Martin is just 3-for-17 (.176) with a pair of walks and five strikeouts through eight Grapefruit League games. The veteran backstop has been eased into action this spring as he's expected to take on another hefty workload for the Jays during the regular season. More than half of Martin's exhibition at-bats have come over the past three games, so the 34-year-old appears to be kicking it into gear as April approaches. Even after a grueling 11 MLB seasons as a catcher, Martin remains a top fantasy option at the position.
Martin will be eased into spring training by having a limited defensive workload, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet reports. Manager John Gibbons says the plan is to "make sure he gets enough at-bats" before the season begins. Martin underwent minor knee surgery this offseason and it appears the organization is exercising caution regarding his return. In addition, the 33-year-old has a built-in break this March when he joins the Canadian WBC team as a coach for a few days. Martin is expected to start Toronto's Grapefruit League game this Sunday, but he should be well-rested when the regular season begins.
Although Martin was not approved to play in the World Baseball Classic due to a contract insurance issue, Blue Jays management has no concerns about the veteran's health, Shi Davidi of Sportsnet reports. Martin underwent minor surgery on his left knee over the winter. The underwriters for the WBC didn't clear the backstop to play in this year's tournament, but Jays' general manager Ross Atkins insisted his organization had no concerns about Martin participating in the WBC. "Russ is an incredible athlete, incredible asset to Major League Baseball. He really wanted to play and I wanted that for him because he wanted that so badly. He's someone who takes such good care of himself, is an elite athlete, I'm sure he would have been fine," Atkins said. Management's reassuring words should end speculation that Martin suffered a setback with his knee.
Martin will not play for Team Canada in the World Baseball Classic due to not being cleared for contract insurance, Jon Morosi reports. Although the news may be disappointing for Martin, fantasy owners won't complain. The 33-year-old backstop appeared in 137 games last season, his most since 2009 as a Dodger. Without a clear backup option in Toronto, the veteran is slated for another grueling season behind the dish. Avoiding the WBC means Martin will have an extra month to ease into 2017 and start the campaign with fresh legs.