BY GYLE KONOTOPETZ
If Toronto Blue Jays’ catcher Russ Martin, were a stock trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange, I would have sold long ago. This stock has been in a downtrend ever since the popular Canadian’s celebrated signing with the Jays four years ago.
Martin’s batting average has plummeted each season as a Jay, from .240 to .231 to .221 and now he can’t even hit his weight. In 27 games, Martin is hitting a pathetic .172.
That’s not all, folks. He has also struggled behind the plate. The masked man looks 35 going on 50 behind the plate. He looks like a lot of 35-year-old catchers worn down by the years. More often than not, he has been bouncing throws to second on steal attempts. The word is out through baseball: run on Martin.
Martin has also been injury-prone since joining the Jays and the gutsy competitor often appears to be playing through injuries.
Bottom line? Right now, he’s the Blue Jays’ second best catcher.
Upstart backup catcher Luke Maile is in a screaming uptrend. The 27-year-old Kentuckian has clearly outplayed Martin. His strong, accurate arm is getting respect from opposing baserunners. He has thrown out six of nine baserunners.
And he has been on fire at the plate, batting .317 and has more runs batted in than Martin despite having 30 less at-bats. More importantly, Maile is batting .455 with runners in scoring position and .667 (2-for-3) with the bases loaded.
Meanwhile, the steamy love affair between Martin and the Toronto media continues while the convenient scapegoat of the broadcasters and writers has been Cuban Kendrys Morales, the DH who like Martin is floundering at the plate. The cheerleaders employed by Sportsnet (which is owned by Rogers, which owns the Jays) have virtually ignored the fact that Martin, from a business standpoint, is the biggest bust on the Jays.
Jays are paying Martin US $20 million this season while the guy paying the huge dividends, Maile, gets $500,000.
The trouble is that Martin is a not a stock so he can’t be sold and trading him isn’t even an option considering his bloated salary. The Jays are stuck with his five-year $82 million contract through next season.
If Martin weren’t Canadian, he’d be getting booed off the field when he flails at strike three.
But it’s high time for Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbons to make a decision on who his number one catcher is. Right now, his Jays have a better chance of winning with Maile starting behind the plate than Martin. Even if his batting average fades, his presence behind the plate looms large. Too many games can be lost when opposing runners run almost at will on your catcher.
You can bet that Gibbons, a former catcher, knows it only too well. But will he show the courage to make the call?
Maile, who has also been lauded by teammates for his handling of the pitchers, has earned the opportunity to be #1. Too often, unheralded players such as Maile never get the vote of confidence they deserve and wind up back in the minor leagues.
Because of his versatility, Martin can still be a valuable tool as backup catcher and utility player. The streak hitter, notorious for horrendous slumps at the plate, can try and get his bat going as a designated hitter or by spelling Josh Donaldson occasionally at third base.
If Maile comes crashing back to earth and his phenomenal clutch hitting turns out to be a mirage, so be it. Then, you give the job back to the grizzled veteran.
But I believe the bright and quiet-spoken Maile who is late bloomer who may well be ready for prime time as a front-line catcher.
How can you ignore a baseball player who is in screaming uptrend.