Tomorrow afternoon Blue Jays fans will get to see Troy Tulowitzki and Russell Martin in their first taste of spring training action. Both players are superstars but somehow in the Blue Jays clubhouse – filled with an MVP, the Stro-show and a couple 40 homer All-Stars – Martin and Tulowitzki can somehow fall into the background. Both players would be easily the first or second best player on 90% of MLB teams but with Toronto’s ridiculous lineup all they need to do is – stay healthy.
Lets start with Tulo. After he finally fumbled one to many balls at shortstop Jose Reyes was sent packing for arguably the best shortstop in the game. Though he is not as nimble as he once was Tulowitzki posted 5 DRS (defensive runs saved) to Reyes’ atrocious -8 DRS. If maintained, that’s 13 runs the Jays prevent without even mentioning his bat, which is also a huge upgrade. That’s why health is the only thing that could hold him back. If Tulo puts up career average numbers on defence and at the plate and plays 140 games, Toronto fans will finally realize that they have another MVP caliber player on their team.
People know he is good but playing in the west and on an NL team his whole career, a lot of Toronto fans don’t realize just how good. Before last year anytime Tulo played more than 120 games he finished in the top 20 for the NL MVP (18th 2007, 5th 2009, 5th 2010, 8th 2011, 17th 2013), had he remained with the Rockies last year there is no doubt that he may have received a few votes. A career .297 BA and .877 OPS show that his dip in production after being traded (.239 BA) was probably an anomaly based on him being pissed about being traded. Before the trade he was moving steadily along with a .300 average. And oh ya – his acquisition gives Toronto the best up the middle defence in Baseball!
No matter what, a full (healthy) year of Tulo will be a huge upgrade to a major position. Even though he spent 81 games a year at Coors Field, he also had to play a fair amount of time in the cavernous parks of San Diego and San Fransico. Playing in the shoebox ballparks of the AL East won’t hurt his production as he ages. If he can hit .297 (once again his career avg.!!!) and consistently show off his spectacular defence, he has a chance to supplant Josh Donaldson as Toronto’s new favorite superstar and MVP candidate.
Good ol’ Rusty! Unlike Tulo everyone in Canada knows what Martin can do. After signing for $82 million with the Jays last offseason Martin did what he always does – hit well, play hard and lead his team to the playoffs. Martin smashed a career high 23 dingers, threw out a career high (and league leading) 44% of baserunners and had more plate appearances (507) than any season since 2009.
Martin wasn’t healthy all year. He was beat up at few points but managed to stay in the lineup and put up great numbers at the plate (other than a slow start and a battered August). On top of that his defence was unworldly, setting a career high by catching 32 outta 70 baserunners. He was everything the fans were expecting and capped it off with an unofficial AL East clinching home run against the Yankees.
Martins stats will fluctuate this season. He will probably will not throw out 44% of runners again (more like 39%, still good), but he could very well put up a higher batting average in his second season back in the AL (maybe .260?). Regardless, all he needs to do is play 120 games. His game calling ability and pitch framing is invaluable. His knowledge, grit and demeanour give this team a back bone. He has more playoff starts (48) than any Blue Jays player, and that experience almost adds an on-field coach to Toronto’s somewhat inexperienced pitching staff. That is most likely the reason Dioner Navarro left – he knew he couldn’t compare, but with him gone the Jays have nobody impactful if Martin goes down.
The Jays clubhouse is packed with superstars but Martin and Tulowitzki’s health will probably have the biggest overall impact on how this season unfolds.
Honorable Mentions: Josh Donaldson, Marcus Stroman, J.A. Happ (other wise known as the lone lefty)