Next up on "How Much Money Do MLB Teams Really Have?", let's welcome the Russell Martin contract to the show.
The Blue Jays signed the market's top catcher in a stunning deal on Monday -- five years and $82 million for a catcher that will turn 32 as teams report to spring training.
We can use "stunning" here for a few reasons. The Cubs were supposedly the leaders for Martin's services, and the Blue Jays usually don't (or can't) compete with large-market teams. But Ken Rosenthal foreshadowed Toronto's "sleeping giant" status...
... and sure enough, the Jays went further than the Cubs by tacking on a fifth year, and at a slightly higher annual rate. The resulting contract exceeded FanGraphs' crowdsourced estimate by a large margin, and even topped MLB Trade Rumors' more aggressive projection by $10 million.
With the aforementioned Victor Martinez contract, the Giancarlo Stanton extension and the Martin signing, you can construct reasons why their contracts overshot assumed value. Martinez's bat was essential to Detroit's win-now plans. Jeffrey Loria will find a way out of a 13-year contract. Canadian teams have to pay extra to lure players out of the U.S., which was underscored by Jon Paul Morosi:
Despite playing in one of the most dynamic and livable cities on the continent, the Blue Jays haven’t had an easy time attracting free agents — particularly Americans who aren’t used to going through customs on a frequent basis. Anthopoulos has been the GM in Toronto for more than five years; not once during that time has a U.S.-born free agent signed a multiyear contract with the Blue Jays.
In this case, though, Martin is Ontario-born and Quebec-raised, so that doesn't seem to apply here. So maybe this mental inflation needs to be figured into our rosterbating arithmetic for teams that want to bolster its chances via free agency?
It's always hard to tell at this point in the offseason, as Jeff Sullivan noted in his evaluation of the Stanton extension:
Seems like the industry usually reacts with astonishment, early in offseasons, before going on to make similar decisions later in offseasons. It’s always startling to recognize how much money there is in this game.
Which is why I'm trying my best to wait for the big picture to emerge, even if this seems more extreme than usual. Because maybe it's just the usual.
The White Sox could have been serious players for Martin had Tyler Flowers not stabilized his career. Rick Hahn said at SoxFest that Brian McCann was the only free-agent catcher in which they had interest, and had Flowers fumbled his second chance at starting, they might've been right back at it.
The Blue Jays were in a similar spot last season, and they went the stopgap route by signing Dioner Navarro to a two-year, $8 million deal. Yet that commitment to a veteran didn't eliminate them from going for the marquee player the next season, even if they risk allocating their resources in a strange fashion.
Sullivan says the Martin signing boosts the Blue Jays' catcher projections from the fifth-worst to the fifth-best. The move probably would've had a similar impact on the Sox, because a respectable 2014 didn't completely Febreze the stink from his 2013, so that dampens future enthusiasm.
But the Sox can crush their own projections through more modest means. The first is protecting Flowers' magic goggles from a cruel fate:
Beyond Flowers, any such projections cast Adrian Nieto or Josh Phegley as the backup, and that seems like something Rick Hahn can't and won't allow to happen. It's only fair to give Robin Ventura two catchers who can work with every pitcher, after forcing him to lean heavily on Flowers last year.
If you believe in Flowers and Hahn, then you probably feel comfortable penciling the Sox in for a couple more wins than the current projections indicate. If you think Flowers' value can collapse, then sitting out of the starting catcher market for another year is probably a bummer.
I'm inclined to think Flowers' rebound was a hard-fought victory in an evaluation season, but the Sox can't really afford to be cavalier about it. After pairing Flowers with Nieto, Phegley and Hector Gimenez the last two years, giving him some real reinforcement would be one way to keep a fringe contender from leaking wins.