Whoever the Blue Jays get to fill the backup catcher role needs to be capable of contributing far more often
Russell Martin was behind the plate for 1069.1 innings in 2016, which was his highest total since he was 26 with the Dodgers in 2009. Josh Thole and Dioner Navarro were counted on for just 390 innings combined.
Martin’ knees now have almost 12,000 innings of crouching on them over his major league career (almost at 13,000 including his minor league totals). Add to that the battering the rest of his body takes in his demanding role. If Martin going to be able to stay off the disabled list and produce enough value over the remainder of his contract, he must play less. It’s already a possibility that Martin won’t catch the majority of games in 2019. The Jays need to ease up on Russell if they hope to have him still be their primary catcher that year.
But it’s not just for the long term that Martin should have a smaller workload. Over the latter half of his career, he’s played better with more rest. In perhaps his best season, 2014, he caught 940 innings and had 460 plate appearances.
Let’s hypothetically pencil Martin in for an ideal ~950 innings in his age 34 season next year—where are the additional ~600 innings behind the plate going to come from?
As of this moment, A.J Jimenez is the only option. Could Jimenez break out and be an effective MLB backup for all of 2017? Sure, but hopefully the Blue Jays aren’t betting on that possibility.
There are plenty of free agent catching options out there capable of giving the Jays 600 innings as a backup but they need to be quality innings. Restricting the search to passable (at least) bats and solid defenders narrows the field considerably.
Nick Hundley is available but Toronto should focus on defense behind the plate. No to Navarro for the same reason and in light of his dreadful year offensively (Although it could make him very inexpensive. He wouldn’t be a bad option if other possibilities don’t work out and if the price is right I suppose).
Ellis and Avila are considered two of the best game callers in the league. Ellis was an average framer last year and Avila has never been very good in that regard. Ellis didn’t have a great year offensively in 2016 but gets on base at good clip for his career. Avila had the better year at the plate and has been the superior bat over his career.
Both Avila and Ellis strike me as better bets to be able to provide Russell Martin with the rest he needs than a bargain bin, league-minimum type or an untested minor leaguer. Neither Avila or Ellis would block the path of someone like Reese McGuire down the road either.
Let someone with experience and proven value cover ~500 innings and let someone like A.J Jimenez cover 50 or so as a September call up.
Martin is owed $60 million dollars over the next three years. It can still be a good deal with proper planning. In order to mitigate the extent of his decline over those years and maximize his value to the Jays, more rest is the prescription.