The Toronto Blue Jays are a team in flux. 2018 has served as a brutal reminder of what the rich teams can accomplish especially within the Blue Jays own division. 2019 and the prospects that populate the farm system do suggest a bright future, but should the Jays enact a near-ancient phenomenon to usher in this new generation?
Okay, “near-ancient” is a bit of a stretch, but not since Pete Rose from 1984-1986 has there been a player-manager in the MLB and I think the Blue Jays should revive the position here in Toronto. It would be a risky move with a team poised to be full of young, developing prospects but a club veteran player could be the move at manager.
My nomination is Russell Martin. Martin is a student of the game and 13-year veteran of the MLB. His accolades aren’t too shabby either: four-time All-Star, Gold Glover, Silver Slugger, 9th in Rookie of the Year voting, and MVP consideration in three seasons.
Besides his awards, Matin has substantial in-game experience across the MLB. He plays now as a catcher for Toronto in the American League but has spent time in the National League with the Dodgers and Pirates, too. He also has experience playing as an infielder as Toronto fans are well aware of. In 96 games played this season 71 are at catcher, 21 at 3B, 3 at SS, and 1 in LF.
The reason why Martin would be a choice for player-manager relies on his experience as a catcher first and foremost. Yes, him spending time across the diamond is important to understand the game from the perspective of other positions, but as a catcher you have the responsibility of organizing the team and your teams game from behind the plate.
This is why you see former catchers transition into manager roles post-playing careers because they are comfortable reading a game and setting up a dynamic game plan during play. Mike Scioscia, Ned Yost, Joe Girardi, and yes even John Gibbons are examples of former catchers who have made the transition to catcher.
Russell Martin is also a prime choice for player-manager due to the depth of catchers the Blue Jays currently have at their disposal. Danny Jansen is all but a lock to step into a major league role next season after having a solid start to his MLB career this season. Likewise, Reese McGuire who was called up with the expanded roster is poised to stake a claim at a job too after an impressive season in the minors.
This leaves Russell Martin and Luke Maile as the veteran catchers left to fight for two positions on the roster. With Martin’s $20 million contract for 2019 still on the books, it is likely he’ll stay with the team making Maile moveable in the offseason. Logically you don’t want 3-4 catchers on your roster with a young and unpredictable pitching rotation so moving one out makes sense.
Martin knows the MLB, he knows how to call a game, and maybe most importantly he knows how to work with young pitchers. Martin has handled countless pitchers over his tenure as an MLB catcher and would not only positively affect the likes of Borucki’s and Reid-Foley’s development, he would demand more out of the catching prospects below him to maximize all of his pitchers’ skills.
Ross Atkins and Mark Shapiro are not likable characters in Toronto and hardly stray from their plans when it comes to drafting and developing talent. They probably have a manager in mind to bring in and act as a stop-gap between now and whenever the Jays are a contending team again, so Martin as a player-manager may not be a situation we see in the near future.
Despite these facts, it’s an interesting idea to play around with. Martin has to be the best candidate on the team for the job, plus he could chip in at catcher or really anywhere across the diamond should he need too. It would be nice to for once see a manager actually use those crisp uniforms they don in the dugout night after night, right?
It’s unlikely, but if the Blue Jays ever had an opportunity to reopen a long forgotten MLB practice 2019 and Russell Martin is the perfect combination for the first player-manager in 32 years.