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Martin comes home, officially joins Blue Jays

Anthopoulos cites durability, leadership qualities during news conference
MLB.com @gregorMLB

TORONTO -- Russell Martin will go down as one of the best Canadian baseball players of all time, but now he has an opportunity to make an impact north of the border in more ways than one.

The Blue Jays officially unveiled their star recruit during an introductory news conference on Thursday afternoon. It was an almost surreal moment for the three-time All-Star, who was born in Toronto and raised in Montreal before making a name for himself in the United States.

TORONTO -- Russell Martin will go down as one of the best Canadian baseball players of all time, but now he has an opportunity to make an impact north of the border in more ways than one.

The Blue Jays officially unveiled their star recruit during an introductory news conference on Thursday afternoon. It was an almost surreal moment for the three-time All-Star, who was born in Toronto and raised in Montreal before making a name for himself in the United States.

The homecoming of sorts was made possible when the Blue Jays made him a five-year offer worth $82 million. It was by far the largest contract Toronto has handed out through free agency, and in the end, the Blue Jays' willingness to include a fifth year made the deal possible.

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"The fifth year of the contract definitely weighed in," Martin said. "Just thinking about being able to play in Canada was definitely high up there, close to home, easy for family to travel to Toronto to watch games without having to go through the border.

"Those are all little things that weighed in the decision. It was a great deal overall. The opportunity for me to play at home and the contract that was offered just made a lot of sense to me."

The Blue Jays rarely make any major moves through free agency. Prior to signing Martin, Toronto general manager Alex Anthopoulos had never handed out more than three years or $16 million in total salary on the open market. The last time the Blue Jays made any kind of noise through free agency came way back in 2005, when J.P. Ricciardi signed A.J. Burnett and B.J. Ryan to lucractive multiyear deals.

Since then, it's been relatively quiet, but when the offseason hit at the end of October, the Blue Jays made Martin their No. 1 priority. Anthopoulos and president Paul Beeston flew to Montreal for an in-person meeting with Martin in Laval, Quebec. The three men sat down at a local coffee shop and Toronto's sales pitch began in earnest.

During that meeting, an older woman sitting at a nearby table recognized the trio and decided to add her two cents. She made it known that Martin should sign with the Blue Jays and play in Canada. The woman wasn't on Toronto's payroll, but perhaps she should be now, because Martin couldn't help but laugh at how it all worked out. The importance of his signing to not only the organization, but also the country isn't lost on him.

"At the end of our meeting, she started smiling and Paul was like, 'Man, I wish I would have planned that,'" Martin said. "It was a fun conversation we had. ... [If it was set up], she was a good actress. She could win a Golden Globe or something."

Martin's signing did come as a surprise, because the catcher position wasn't identified as an area of need for the Blue Jays at the end of the season. Dioner Navarro was coming off a strong year as the everyday guy and all indications were that he would be back, but Martin was the one player Toronto planned to make an exception for.

The strength of Toronto's future clearly lies within its rotation. Marcus Stroman, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Drew Hutchison, along with promising prospects such as Jeff Hoffman are expected to be the strength of this organization for many years to come, and in order to maximize that talent, an elite receiver such as Martin was required.

Martin is generally regarded as one of the best game-callers and pitch-framers in baseball. That's one reason there was no shortage of interest in his services, with the Cubs and Mariners among the other teams in hot pursuit. All of the teams involved had presented rather similar four-year deals, but Toronto's willingness to tack on a fifth year in the final hours of negotiations proved to be enough.

The signing was finalized on Sunday night, and it became official two days later. Anthopoulos boldly told Martin's agent early on in the process that the Blue Jays would be the ones signing his client, and in the end, the statement proved to be accurate.

"The dialogue the whole time was four years," Anthopoulos said. "I can't speak for other clubs that were involved, but I think all of us were at four years. It was getting to the point where it was looking like it would get done.

"We're the ones who brought it up right at the end, but it was to close the deal. We were going to go to the fifth year to get the deal done. For us, the average annual value was just starting to climb so high that at some point, it made sense to have this be a five-year deal with where we thought the four-year deal would end up."

It's a significant commitment, but one that is well earned after a season in which Martin ranked fourth in the Major Leagues with a .402 on-base percentage. He also hit .290 with 11 home runs and 67 RBIs, while posting an .832 OPS. Martin has appeared in at least 111 games in each of the past four seasons and has proven to be a durable commodity behind the plate.

"As much money as we've spent and the commitment that we've made, you can't feel better where we're putting our dollars and who we're giving it to," Anthopoulos said. "The total package, as far as I'm concerned.

"There are no holes in his game, and it's rare that you have that. It's rare that opportunity presents itself, and that's why we were very aggressive in going after him."

Gregor Chisholm is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, North of the Border, and follow him on Twitter @gregorMLB.

Toronto Blue Jays, Russell Martin