By Kevin Glew
Cooperstowners in Canada
My weekly observations and notes about some Canadian baseball stories:
– Montreal native and former Toronto Blue Jays catcher Russell Martin turned 38 on Monday. Some have asked me if Martin has retired. I did some research and the latest update I could find about Martin came from Jon Morosi, of the MLB Network, on January 20. He had been in touch with a source close to Martin who told him that Martin didn’t plan on signing with a team prior to the season, but that the veteran backstop wasn’t retiring. Martin wants to keep open the possibility of returning in the future. Martin last played in the majors with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2019, and batted .220 and posted a .337 on-base percentage in 83 games. That year, he reached the post-season for the 10th time in 14 major league campaigns. But Blue Jays fans will remember him most for his parts of four seasons with the club from 2015 to 2018 in which he registered a .336 on-base percentage and belted 66 home runs in 447 games.
-As I shared on this blog last week, the Seattle Mariners have signed left-hander James Paxton (Ladner, B.C.) to a one-year, $8.5-million deal. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reports that the contract includes “reachable” performance bonuses that could make it worth $10 million. Paxton spent the first six seasons of his MLB career with the Mariners, recording 41 wins and a 3.42 ERA in 102 starts for them. The Blue Jays were rumoured to be interested in Paxton and the 6-foot-4 lefty confirmed their interest in an interview on Sportsnet 650 on Wednesday. “Well, they showed lots of interest, you know, and I had interest in them too,” Paxton said of the Blue Jays. “But they never did actually come with an offer. So we just never got to that point in the negotiations.” The 32-year-old southpaw, who underwent back surgery last February, made just five starts for the New York Yankees in 2020, going 1-1 with a 6.64 ERA prior to being sidelined with a flexor strain in his throwing arm on August 20. In all, the Canuck lefty has pitched in parts of eight major league campaigns and had a career-best 15 wins with the Yankees in 2019.
– I didn’t learn until the day after last week’s column that right-hander Mike Soroka (Calgary, Alta.) had won his arbitration case over the Atlanta Braves. As a result, he’ll make $2.8 million in 2021. The two sides were $700,000 apart heading into the arbitration hearing which took place on February 12. The deal gives Soroka, who made his MLB debut on May 1, 2018, a sizable raise from the $583,500 base salary (which would’ve been prorated) that he made last season in which he was limited to three starts after tearing his right Achilles tendon on August 3. He underwent surgery four days later. Experts say it generally takes nine-to-12 months to recover from this type of injury, but Soroka is hoping to be ready for Opening Day. And if the Canuck righty has any hard feelings about the Braves taking him to arbitration, he didn’t voice them in an interview on TSN 1050 on Wednesday. In the interview, he also discusses his rehab from his Achilles injury and says that if the Braves approached him with a long-term deal, he’d listen. In his rookie campaign in 2019, Soroka went 13-4 with a 2.68 ERA in 29 starts and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting.
–In reading the Baseball America minor league transactions this week, I discovered that the San Diego Padres have released Canadian right-hander Jake Sims (Guelph, Ont.). Sims was selected in the 31st round of the 2018 draft by the Pads and had posted a combined 6.23 ERA in 37 appearances over parts of two seasons at the Rookie Ball and low-A levels. By my count, that’s the fifth Canadian player the Padres have parted ways with in the last six months. On August 31, they traded right-hander Cal Quantrill (Port Hope, Ont.) and Josh Naylor (Mississauga, Ont.) to Cleveland. A few weeks later, they dealt right-handed pitching prospect Matt Brash (Kingston, Ont.) to the Seattle Mariners. Then, after they selected Owen Caissie (Burlington, Ont.) in second round of the 2020 MLB draft, they dealt him to the Chicago Cubs as part of a package for Yu Darvish in December. I’m asking as a Canadian: was it something we said?
– Catcher Kole Cottam, whose father Jeff was born in Burlington, Ont., has been invited to the Boston Red Sox big league camp this spring. He was selected in the fourth round of the 2018 MLB draft by the Bosox and has been ranked as the best defensive catcher in the club’s system by Baseball America. Selected out of the University of Kentucky, the right-handed hitting receiver has batted .249 and has a .340 on-base percentage in 119 minor league games and was named a Red Sox Organization All-Star by MiLB.com following the 2019 season, which he split between class-A Greenville and class-A Advanced Salem.
–Happy 30th Birthday to former Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis! Although I’ve never had the good fortune to talk with Travis, I can’t think of a recent Blue Jays player that has been more universally loved by his teammates, Blue Jays staff and even by the media covering the team. Unfortunately, injuries have curtailed his career, but I’d love to see a team give him a chance this spring. After being acquired by the Blue Jays from the Detroit Tigers in exchange for outfielder Anthony Gose on November 13, 2014, Travis batted over .300 in his first two seasons with the Blue Jays. In all, in parts of four seasons, he hit .274 in 316 contests.
–Thirty-six years ago today, Tim Raines won his arbitration case against the Montreal Expos and was awarded a $1.2-million salary for the 1985 season. At the time, this was the highest salary ever awarded through arbitration. Raines was coming off a 1984 season in which he batted .309, recorded a .393 on-base percentage and led the major leagues with 75 stolen bases. And he didn’t disappoint after he won in arbitration. Armed with his record-breaking contract, he batted .320 with 11 home runs, 13 triples, 70 stolen bases and a .405 on-base percentage for the Expos in 1985.
– This week’s trivia question is a visual one. Who are the two Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductees in the following 1961 Vancouver Mounties photo? Please provide your answer in the “Comments” section below.
– The answer to last week’s trivia question (Jim Fregosi led the Blue Jays to 167 wins while he was their manager. There have been five Blue Jays managers who recorded more wins with the club. Can you name three of them?) was any three of Cito Gaston, John Gibbons, Bobby Cox, Jimy Williams and Carlos Tosca.