TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have turned the page on another chapter in franchise history by trading veteran catcher Russell Martin and cash considerations to the Dodgers for Minor League shortstop Ronny Brito and right-hander Andrew Sopko.Martin had been on the trading block for the past several months as the
TORONTO -- The Blue Jays have turned the page on another chapter in franchise history by trading veteran catcher Russell Martin and cash considerations to the Dodgers for Minor League shortstop Ronny Brito and right-hander Andrew Sopko.
Martin had been on the trading block for the past several months as the Blue Jays looked to transition rookie catchers Danny Jansen and Reese McGuire to the Major Leagues. Toronto agreed to pick up $16.4 million of Martin's $20 million salary to facilitate the deal.
The 35-year-old Martin was one of the last remaining pieces the Blue Jays had from their back-to-back appearances in the American League Championship Series. He joined Toronto prior to 2015 on a five-year contract worth $82 million, and he soon helped the Blue Jays snap a 25-year postseason drought. <p.> </p.>
<p.>"This deal made sense with our depth at catching," Blue Jays executive vice president of baseball operations and general manager Ross Atkins said. "We've added a young pitcher to the upper levels of our system and we've added another middle infielder to our system. It made sense in the short term and in the long term for us." </p.>
The most important aspect of this deal for the Blue Jays is that it marks the end of one era and the start of another. The transition began in September when Toronto relegated a healthy Martin to the bench for all but two games while Jansen and McGuire split most of the workload. That youth movement is now expected to continue.
Jansen is the clear favorite to take over as the No. 1 catcher. The 23-year-old broke onto the scene in mid-August, and he impressed during his brief stint with nine extra-base hits, eight RBIs and a .347 on-base percentage. Ranked as the No. 65 overall prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline, Jansen projects to have a plus bat, but he will have his hands full defensively as he learns a new staff at the big-league level.
The trade also opens the door for McGuire, who is less certain to make the Opening Day roster, but at the very least, he will compete for a job along with Luke Maile. McGuire is known mostly for his defense; his strong arm was on full display last year as a September callup when he threw out a couple of baserunners in seven starts. The 23-year-old also has drawn praise for gamecalling and as a left-handed hitter he's an ideal partner for Jansen.
Jansen might be the favorite for the No. 1 job on Opening Day, but it's quite possible these two will battle it out over the next several years. They pushed each other last season at Triple-A Buffalo where Jansen picked up team MVP honors after hitting .275 with 21 doubles, 12 home runs and 58 RBIs. The glove-first McGuire had more difficulty at the plate with a .233/.312/.339 slash line, but he did have nine hits in 33 at-bats with Toronto as a September callup.
Maile has options remaining on his contract and he is a candidate to open the year at Triple-A Buffalo, but the organization may prefer to keep both of the rookies playing every day. That would involve one starting in Toronto and the other starting in Buffalo.
"There are no guarantees at this point," Atkins said. "Luke would certainly understand that. He has been in that position before. We'll want guys to play on a regular basis as much as we can. So that lends to Luke being on our Major League team, and because more playing time for one of the two younger catchers in Triple-A seems to make some sense. At the same time, that is not close to being etched in stone and there's a lot of time left in this offseason, too."
Friday's trade should prove to be equally as beneficial for Martin, who gets to play for a contender and rejoin the organization that made him a 17th-round pick in the 2002 MLB Draft. Martin spent four seasons with Toronto, and he hit .225/.336/.399 over 447 games. His biggest contributions came when the Blue Jays were contending as he made an AL All-Star team, and he had back-to-back seasons with at least 20 home runs from 2015-16.
The final two years were a bit of a different story. Martin was limited to 91 games in 2017 because of injuries and last season his offensive struggles eventually led to a drastic reduction in playing time. With the Dodgers, he joins a team that recently lost Yasmani Grandal to free agency and has aspirations of another NL West title.
"Russ has been very professional, he has been appreciative of his time here in Toronto and everything he has meant to this organization," Atkins said. "This country has been very powerful for him and obviously for us. Russ was great. I think the world of Russ. I told him on the phone he's one of the toughest individuals I've ever watched play the game of baseball."
Brito was ranked the Dodgers' No. 23 overall prospect by MLB Pipeline. The 19-year-old appeared in 53 games of Rookie ball last season and hit .288/.352/.489. According to Pipeline, Brito was one of the best defenders in his 2015-16 international class, which helped secure a $2 million bonus. He needs a lot more time to develop, but he has Gold Glove Award-caliber skills; his skills at the plate are quite raw.
Sopko was not ranked among Los Angeles' top prospects. The 24-year-old split last season between Class A Advanced Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa while posting a combined 6-5 record with a 3.52 ERA over 26 appearances (22 starts). He'll likely become a candidate to join the starting rotation at Triple-A Buffalo.
"We knew Sopko as an amateur well," Atkins said. "We had at least six solid amateur scouting reports that really helped us in this decision, and certainly had a great deal of information on him as a professional. Had learned about him from an employee of ours that had worked with him at some point, in terms of teammate and makeup and his performance is encouraging.
"With Brito, we knew him before he was signed as well. ... We're excited about his performance this year. The overall ability, the spike in performance we feel like could have something to do with being disrupted by a couple of injuries. He had a broken leg and after that he has really, really performed at a very high rate for a 19-year-old shortstop."
Gregor Chisholm has covered the Blue Jays for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB and Facebook, and listen to his podcast.