The Toronto Blue Jays traded catcher Russell Martin to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday, severing links to the lineup that twice went to the ALCS.
On Oct. 12, 2015, in a preview of the baseball postseason, Sports Illustrated ran a cover story on the core of the Toronto Blue Jays roster. Dubbing them “The New Jacks,” the six players shown on the cover, with manager John Gibbons in the center, marked a return to prominence of the Blue Jays franchise.
Martin was the last of those six players still left with the team. Edwin Encarnacion is now in Seattle, Troy Tulowitzki signed with the New York Yankees, David Price is leading Boston to World Series titles, Josh Donaldson is an Atlanta Brave, while Jose Bautista remains a free agent after spending last year with the Mets and Phillies. Even Gibbons is gone, let go after the 2018 season and replaced by Charlie Montoyo.
Martin was one of the last links to that 2015 team that won the franchise’s first division title in 22 years. The Blue Jays led the majors that year in runs scored before falling in the ALCS to the Kansas City Royals. The following season, with the lineup virtually intact, they returned to the ALCS only to lose once again to the Cleveland Indians.
The Blue Jays of the past two seasons, however, barely resembled that team. They’ve finished fourth in the AL East each year, managing to win 76 and 73 games, respectively. As the wins have gone away, so have the fans. The Blue Jays led the AL in attendance in both 2016 and 2017, drawing more than three million through the gate at Rogers Centre. Last year, however, attendance fell to 2.3 million, the largest drop in the majors.
In November, agent Scott Boras charged the team with having “Blue Flu” for not investing in star players.
Martin, a native of Montreal, returned to Canada to sign with the Jays in 2015. He played 447 games in Toronto over four seasons, hitting 66 home runs and driving in 211. But as the Blue Jays focus on developing their young talent, players like the 35-year-old Martin are no longer part of the team’s plans. Rookie Danny Jansen is poised to be the everyday catcher in 2019. Lourdes Gurriel Jr., 25, has taken over at shortstop. And Vladimir Guerrero Jr., the No. 1 prospect in baseball, is expected to make his debut at third base in April.
Team CEO Mark Shapiro says they’re optimistic about their long-term progress, but insists fans have to be patient as these young players develop.
“I don’t think you can cheat the process,” Shapiro said at the Winter Meetings last month. “Player development…is not linear. You hope that it goes gradually up, but it’s going to have ups and downs. And so you’ve got to be patient.”
The players on that SI cover, their wide smiles reflecting the optimism that surrounded that team, are now all gone. All Blue Jays fans are left with now are thoughts of what could have been for that team, and the hope that the new generation will return Toronto to that level of greatness.