Raise your hand if you thought Russell Martin would ever put on a Dodger uniform again. I know my hand isn’t raised.
Yet the Dodgers today acquired him from the Blue Jays for shortstop Ronny Brito and right-handed pitcher Andrew Sopko. The Blue Jays are also paying a “significant” portion of Martin’s $20 million salary, but the exact amount is not yet known. For luxury tax purposes, his number is $16.4 million.
Martin, 36 next month, is in the final year of a 5-year, $82 million deal he signed back prior to the 2015 season. Some thought the Dodgers might land him that winter and offered a reported 4-year, $64 million deal, but Martin opted for Canada (and the Dodgers traded for Yasmani Grandal).
At 35, it’s no surprise to see his offensive numbers trending downward. His wRC+ over the last three years are 101, 101 and 91. He hit just .194/.338/.325 in 2018 while playing in 90 games for Toronto.
What hasn’t changed much is his defense. Martin has always been one of the best defensive backstops and, as you might guess, he’s really good at framing. According to Baseball Prospectus, he had the 15th-best framing runs above average (adjusted) in the league last season (Grandal was tops, Barnes was 13th). Martin was also the 8th-best in terms of blocking runs last season (Barnes 15th, Grandal 22nd). While they’ve lost the best framing catcher in baseball, they’ve acquired a suitable replacement (especially when paired with Barnes).
The Dodgers gave up a personal favorite of mine in Brito. The 19-year-old hit .295/.359/.496 for Ogden in 2018 while playing a solid shortstop. I ranked him at No. 24 in my Top 100 prior to last season and No. 20 in the mid-season update. I’ve always liked him since he was signed for $2 million out of the Dominican Republic as part of the Dodgers’ hefty 2015-16 international spending spree. He missed most of 2017 after suffering a broken leg while turning a double play, but he bounced back to have a strong 2018. We’ll see how he handles the Midwest League as a 20-year-old in 2019, but I think there’s an everyday, up-the-middle player in there.
Sopko, 24, was the Dodgers’ 7th-round pick in 2015 out of Gonzaga. He’s had a bit of an up-and-down minor-league career to date. But he did show some signs of figuring things out in 2018. Between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa, he had a 3.52 ERA, a 24.2 K% and a 5.4 BB%. He was a bit too hittable, though, which led to some loud contact (9.6 H/9) and home runs (1.0 HR/9). He was No. 36 in last year’s Top 100. His fastball sits in the low-90s and touches 95 MPH. He’s a fly ball pitcher, which might not help his chances in Toronto, but he does exhibit advanced command/control. His primary offspeed pitch is a mid-70s 12-6 curveball. He also has a changeup that’s barely fringe-average at this point. He’ll likely have to move to the bullpen, but there’s a non-zero chance he could make it as a back-end starter or swingman because of an athletic delivery and clean mechanics.
Now, you might think this takes the Dodgers out of the J.T. Realmuto sweepstakes. You might be wrong.
So, if the Dodgers are still in on Realmuto, then perhaps the Marlins want Austin Barnes as part of the return (that won’t include Cody Bellinger, by the way). It’ll be interesting to see if the Dodgers land the game’s best all-around catcher.
They could very well be moving Barnes to second base, but that seems a lot less likely after a poor 2018 season with the bat.
If the Dodgers go into the season with Barnes and Martin as their catchers, that’s probably fine. But there’s still work to be done since losing Grandal’s, Matt Kemp‘s and Yasiel Puig‘s offensive production. Maybe we’ll see some more movement the rest of the winter now.
After the trade, the Dodgers’ 40-man roster is at 39.