Blue Jays' Martin has 'nothing but praise' for former Pirates teammates
DUNEDIN, Fla. — Nostalgia kept tugging at Russell Martin as he went through the free agent process last winter.
In the end, though, common sense — and his business sense — prevailed.
After spending the past two seasons with the Pirates, Martin jumped to the Toronto Blue Jays on a five-year, $82 million contract.
“I had a blast in Pittsburgh,” Martin said. “Our team was amazing. The chemistry was great, but it was more than just myself. I felt like it was a better fit overall for me to come play for the Blue Jays.”
Martin played the first five innings Tuesday in the Pirates' 8-7 victory over the Blue Jays. It was the Grapefruit League opener for both teams.
“It's definitely strange seeing the guys you spent the last couple of years with on the first day,” said Martin, who went 1 for 3. “I've got nothing but praise for the guys over there. I consider all those guys friends.”
As he crouched to catch right-hander Aaron Sanchez's pregame warmup pitches, Martin turned toward the Pirates' dugout and made a small salute. When Martin came to bat in the first inning, he gave catcher Tony Sanchez's shin guard a friendly tap.
Martin and slugger Jose Bautista (another former Pirates player) received the loudest cheers from Blue Jays fans during pregame introductions. Martin was born in Toronto and lives in Montreal, so he's proud to wear a red maple leaf on his spring training cap.
“It felt like it was right to go back and play for the only Canadian team,” Martin said. “I'm kind of in the situation that (Pittsburgh native) Neil Walker's in with the Pirates. He gets to represent his hometown.”
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he sent a text to Martin after the deal with Toronto was finalized. When asked how he feels about seeing Martin in a different uniform, Hurdle was succinct and unsentimental.
“We wish him well,” Hurdle said. “He impacted (the Pirates) all over the place. He got a great opportunity (with the Blue Jays). He's close to home, and they've got a good team.”
In addition to signing Martin, the Blue Jays traded for third baseman Josh Donaldson. Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion provide pop, and their top four starting pitchers from last season are back.
“I definitely think our chances are pretty good,” Martin said. “We have a pretty good combination of young talent and some veteran presence. It's kind of the same situation that was in Pittsburgh, a little bit.”
It's not as though the team Martin left behind is awful. After netting a wild-card bid each of the past two seasons, the Pirates are rated contenders for the National League Central title again this year.
That was almost enough to entice Martin to stay. He said he never will forget the standing ovation he received near the end of the 8-0 loss to the San Francisco Giants in the wild-card game last season at PNC Park.
“That was pretty special,” Martin said. “I never felt as appreciated as I was in Pittsburgh — by the fans, by the organization, by my teammates.”
In the end, Martin said, the decision came down to the Blue Jays, Pirates and Chicago Cubs. Pirates management said it was willing to stretch to re-sign Martin, but their offer was one year and several million dollars short of Toronto's.
“(The Pirates) were pretty vocal, and I think they definitely wanted me back,” Martin said. “It was just a feeling that Toronto wanted me a little bit more.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.