Blue Jays could make move to protect Russell Martin


Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin is having a rough time handling R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball this season, writes Jeff Blair. (Jon Blacker/CP)

The heavy lifting is complete, but the Toronto Blue Jays roster will look different when the club heads to New York City for the weekend series against the American League East leading New York Yankees. For one thing, it would be a surprise if Josh Thole isn’t back on the roster to catch knuckleballer R.A. Dickey.

Know this: manager John Gibbons and general manager Alex Anthopoulos are well aware that catcher Russell Martin is getting beaten up handling Dickey’s knuckleball. Never mind the mental toll; two starts ago, it was the sight of Martin sitting in the Blue Jays dugout between innings staring down forlornly at a throbbing left thumb after a knuckleball had wrenched it at the base of the glove that finally forced the organization’s hand.

Martin has made 14 starts behind the plate with Dickey on the mound and is 8-for-47 (.170) with two home runs in those games, just two of which have been multi-hit. That’s a waste.

Our Shi Davidi asked Martin about the worrisome sight in the dugout, and he spoke about the difference in gloves used to catch Dickey. Martin’s not one to whine. But neither does he have an aversion to fact or reality.

“The other balls, I’m able to catch in the glove. The knuckleball, I never catch it in the sweet spot,” Martin explained. “My other glove, I’m catching the ball in the sweet spot almost every time. With that one, it’s rattling around in my glove, so every once in a while it will catch me on the inside part of the thumb and it jams it a little bit. It’s not broken. Just bangs it a little bit.”

It makes sense. As much as Thole is a non-factor offensively, for a team that has traded for defensive help in left field, decided to run with Justin Smoak because of his superior defence at first, and has traded a bona fide pitching prospect for two months of David Price, it makes no sense to continue to create a margin for error that doesn’t need to exist. Thole does one thing well: catches a guy who is going to pitch every fifth day, and who goes deep enough into most of his starts that fate is tempted. The fine-tuning is one reason that Danny Valencia was designated for assignment, and why the days of the eight-man bullpen may soon be done.


My view of the non-waiver trade deadline:


Houston Astros: After the New York Mets balled up the Carlos Gomez deal, GM Jeff Luhnow took advantage of the turmoil and pulled off a trade for the Milwaukee Brewers outfielder, and while he didn’t add his much-coveted closer, two things to remember: the Astros had the third-lowest bullpen earned run average in the majors at the deadline, anyhow, and by adding starters Scott Kazmir and Mike Fiers they’ve opened the possibility of lengthening the bullpen with a call-up of Vince Velasquez from Double-A.

Kansas City Royals: Ben Zobrist is the most useful player in baseball and Johnny Cueto as a rental makes perfect sense, because the Royals won’t be worrying about a one-game wild-card playoff: they’ll be in as a division winner. In some ways, their rental of Cueto makes more sense than the Blue Jays rental of David Price, although …

Toronto Blue Jays: Troy Tulowitzki is a marked upgrade over Jose Reyes, and if time forces a position move in the next two years – third or first – he’ll be easier to sell on it than Reyes. The Blue Jays traded a lot of pitching depth, but the ETA of most of them doesn’t match up with the window presented by its core players.


Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim: Just desserts for the manner in which they knifed GM Jerry DiPoto in the back: a collection of mediocre outfielders added at a deadline most remembered for pitcher C.J. Wilson telling the world his season was over. I think the Angels are the most likely team to tumble the rest of the way.

San Diego Padres: I have no issue keeping Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross or James Shields, who are under club control. It took Anthopoulous two years to undo the damage of his big deal with the Miami Marlins; tough for A.J. Preller to clean up a mess he made just eight or nine months ago. But, man, to not get anything in return for prospective free-agents Justin Upton, Ian Kennedy, Joaquin Benoit or Will Venable is bizarre, even with a weak schedule that offers a flicker of post-season hope.


• Just to throw a little prospect fear into you: Noah Syndergaard, the former Blue Jays prospect traded for Dickey and who was named co-winner of the National League player of the week along with teammate Lucas Duda, has 100 strikeouts in his first 15 major league games. Only Dwight Gooden (113), Matt Harvey (109) and Nolan Ryan (106) have more after 15 games. Nice company.

• Player I’m told that the Blue Jays came closer to acquiring at the deadline than we might imagine: Zobrist, who was dealt from the Oakland Athletics to the Royals and who fills every position hole the Blue Jays have – or might have.

• Prime Time Sports host Bob McCown said on Friday that his sources suggest Oakland Athletics vice-president and general manager Billy Beane is a candidate to be Paul Beeston’s replacement as president and chief executive officer of the Blue Jays, amid sentiment in the industry that Beane is growing tired of the ongoing stadium melodrama in Oakland.

And now that Larry Lucchino has stepped down as president and CEO of the Boston Red Sox, I wonder if he’ll be a candidate. Lucchino has experience working for owners who have broadcast concerns and was a master of figuring out how to squeeze extra revenue out of an aging facility – Fenway Park – that isn’t soon to be replaced. He is also a cutthroat, backroom manipulator who is not afraid to dabble in the day-to-day baseball operations of his team. Either way, I’m told that Anthopoulos’ job is now considered to be much safer than it was three months ago, and that he might even be a candidate for Beeston’s job.


I made this plea on Prime Time Sports on Friday and I want to issue it again: can’t we all just enjoy David Price for the next two months without worrying about the chances – slim to very slim – that he re-signs in Toronto next season?


There will be plenty of time to go all Noah Syndergaard over Daniel Norris, too. Let’s just enjoy this ride. Deal?

Jeff Blair is host of The Jeff Blair Show from 9 a.m.-Noon E.T. and Baseball Central from Noon-1 p.m. ET on Sportsnet 590/The Fan. He also appears frequently on Prime Time Sports with Bob McCown.

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