TORONTO — Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos has traded franchise icons, pulled off blockbuster deals and signed players to lucrative extensions.
Landing a top-flight free agent by offering more term and dollars than other teams was new territory. But Anthopoulos was determined to sign Canadian catcher Russell Martin, and this week he got it done.
"I think at one point I may have mentioned to the agent, I may have said, ‘Hey, just so you know, I’m signing the player,"’ Anthopoulos said Thursday. "Just because it kept going back and forth and obviously that wasn’t to be arrogant or cocky, I felt we wanted him more than anybody else.
"That’s not to take anything away, but we just put so much time into this. And like I said, he’s the key to our off-season and he’s someone that we really wanted to have."
Other teams were also considering four-year packages for the 31-year-old backstop but the addition of a fifth year helped put the Blue Jays over the top. The US$82-million deal is back-loaded to give the team financial flexibility in the short-term.
"Alex was pretty convinced that I was going to be a Blue Jay and he was convinced early on too," Martin said. "It’s always nice to know that somebody really wants you, it makes you feel rewarded for what you’ve done."
Martin is a three-time all-star who’s entering his 10th big-league season. He has some pop at the plate and is a significant defensive upgrade from Dioner Navarro, who will likely move to a designated hitter role if he isn’t traded.
Martin has an excellent arm to go with his soft hands and elite pitch framing ability. He also has Canadian roots — he was born in Toronto and grew up in Chelsea, Que.
Both he and Anthopoulos took questions in French and English at a packed introductory news conference Thursday afternoon at Rogers Centre.
"Ultimately I don’t think there is a better place to win," Martin said. "My home turf, wearing a Blue Jays uniform. Obviously that’s the thing that any Canadian would say, but it’s the truth."
Martin decided to test the free-agent market after declining Pittsburgh’s $15.3-million qualifying offer this month. He had a strong defensive season with the Pirates and hit .290 with 11 homers and 67 RBIs.
Martin also has plenty of post-season experience, having reached the playoffs in seven of the last nine years. The Blue Jays have not reached the post-season since winning a second straight World Series title in 1993.
"He’s just a complete player in so many ways," said Anthopoulos. "He’s a winner as well. Everywhere he goes he seems to win … he’s also a great player offensively and defensively. He’s a great athlete, great in the clubhouse, great off the field as well.
"As much money as we’ve spent and the commitment that we’ve made, you can’t feel better about where we’re putting our dollars and who we’re giving it to. He’s a total package as far as I’m concerned. There are no holes in his game."
Martin also has the experience to help groom up-and-coming youngsters like Marcus Stroman, Drew Hutchison and possibly Aaron Sanchez in a starting rotation that’s anchored by R.A. Dickey and Mark Buehrle.
The contract is the biggest one handed out by Anthopoulos since taking over from J.P. Ricciardi in October 2009. It’s the second-biggest contract ever for the Blue Jays, trailing only the $126-million, seven-year deal given to outfielder Vernon Wells following the 2006 season.
“I’ve never been as comfortable with a signing as I have been with this one, because of everything he brings,” Anthopoulos stated.
The Blue Jays had a strong first half last season but settled for a third-place finish in the American League East with an 83-79 record.
Anthopoulos still has plenty of work to do this off-season. It’s unclear if free agent Melky Cabrera will return, the second base and centre-field positions could use upgrades and the bullpen needs a boost.
Anthopoulos wouldn’t tip his hand on potential plans but did say his phone has been ringing a lot more as a result of his first big free-agent splash.
"Some agents and some players that are saying, ‘You know what, we wouldn’t mind playing there now. We’d love to throw to a guy like (Martin),"’ he said. "It’s been eye-opening a little bit and that wasn’t part of the plan. But again, we still have to be competitive with contracts and things like that.
"But it definitely seems like the interest level has picked up a little bit because he’s so well-respected in the community."
Martin, a five-foot-10 205-pounder, has a career .259 average with 119 home runs and 540 RBIs in nine seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees and Pirates.
–With files from Sportsnet Staff