* A couple of Montreal natives Russell Martin was given the largest free-agent contract in Blue Jays history by general manager Alex Anthopoulos.
Originally published Nov. 24, 2014
By Bob Elliott
Model Cheryl Tiegs was on the cover of Sports Illustrated and Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean was the No. 1 song on Feb. 15, 1983.
And that day a bouncing baby boy named Russell Nathan Coltrane (Jeanson) Martinwas born in East York.
How did it come to pass that Martin, who grew up in Montreal, received the largest free-agent contract in Toronto Blue Jays history?
How did it all evolve that the Jays in need of a left fielder, a second baseman and bullpen help went after one of the game’s best catchers?
There were flights and drives to Montreal, too many phone calls to count.
An in-depth look at how the Jays landed Martin.
Oct. 20 _ Phoenix. A group of Jays front-office executives meet in a downtown Phoenix hotel before going to watch Dalton Pompey and their other prospects with the Mesa Solar Sox in the Arizona Fall League.
The group ranked the Jays priorities for next season in order,
Re-building the bullpen is No. 1.
Free agent Martin is discussed and the conclusion is “great player ... love to have him ... but we have to prioritize.”
Dioner Navarro was an upgrade over J.P. Arencibia behind the plate, but not like having Pat Borders behind the plate. While it was no where near the top of a shopping list, Martin was an attractive option.
“We weren’t sure pursuing Russell was the right thing,” Anthopoulos recalled. “We decided to take a few weeks and chew on it.”
As Dana Brown always says “keep the main thing, the main thing.”
Leaving Phoenix the main thing remained the bullpen.
Oct. 30 _ New York. No longer required to file for free agency players become free agents as soon as the World Series ends.
The day after the San Francisco Giants edged the Kansas City Royals in Game 7, the Players Association released the list of 121 players who could become free agents. Martin is on the list.
Oct. 30 _ 1 Blue Jays Way The Jays discuss Martin and how the stars have aligned. The Jays ...
_ Could claim that they were a team on the cusp of winning -- after 61 days in first place in 2014.
_ Management can handle a big salary.
_ Front office can say and show they are trying to win.
_ And Martin was hitting free agency at the prime of his career,
Without any of those four stars on line like a Jose Bautista drive, if one was out of kilter ... the Jays and Martin would not even have talked.
The fact that the stars never aligned for others are reason Wayne Gretzky never skated for the Maple Leafs, why Mario Lemieux or Vincent Levcallier never played for the Montreal Canadiens, or Larry Walker never played in Toronto.
Nov. 1 _ 1 Blue Jays Way. Anthopoulos calls Martin’s Chicago-based agent Matt Colleran, telling him that the Jays front office will be in Montreal for a press conference exhibition games at the Olympic Stadium.
Could the Jays meet with Martin?
Colleran says Martin is in Montreal.
The purpose of the meeting is not to sign Martin, but to gauge his interest.
Would he consider coming to Toronto?
Nov. 3 _ PNC Stadium. The Pirates offer a $15.3 million qualifying offer to Martin.
On your radio dial. The Fan reports that the Jays have had internal discussions about free-agent Martin.
Nov. 4 _ 1 PM, Bell Centre, Montreal. Jays president Paul Beeston and Hall of Famer Robbie Alomar fly Air Canada into Dorval. Assistant GM Tony LaCava flies in from Pittsburgh. Anthopoulos makes the 5 1/2 hour drive because he can get more work done - via phone in his car vs. flying. And no doubt he wanted to drive past Canada’s first capital: Kingston.
The purpose of the press gathering was to drum up interest for the Jays return to the Olympic Stadium. Evenko, the entertainment arm of the Montreal Canadiens, is bringing in Joey Votto and the Cincinnati Reds to play the Jays April 3-4.
Would the games draw 96,000 as they did in March?
Anthopoulos speaks about hoping to make it an annual event, but like a lot of times his mind was elsewhere.
Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre speaks of the hopes of gaining a franchise -- an American League -- franchise.
2:30, Restaurant Cafe Locale, MontrealGreg Hamilton meets with Martin and his former coach tells him he’s the seventh member to be named to the Baseball Canada Wall of Fame. Martin will be honored Jan. 10 at the annual banquet in Toronto.
6 PM, Bell Centre suite After appearing at local radio stations Anthopoulos returns to the hotel and changes. He and LaCava arrive in the box. Beeston could not make the meeting due to a previous commitment.
Martin and Colleran arrive 10 minutes later.
First thing the GM said to Martin was “Man, did I get grilled about you when we were announcing those two games we’re going to play in April at the Big O.”
Anthopoulos and LaCava talk about the Jays of 2014 and what they had hoped for next season.
They ask Martin baseball questions.
Would Martin consider playing for the Jays?
The got to know a little bit about Martin.
As the puck was about to drop, Anthopoulos and LaCava left, giving Martin the box for his friends to watch the Chicago Black Hawks play the Habs.
Not a good night for 21,287 Hab fans: Corey Crawford records a shut out as Jonathan Toews, Marcus Kruger, Brad Richards, PatrickKane and Kris Versteeg score in a 5-0 Hawks win.
7 PM, Milos restaurant, Avenue du Parc. Anthopoulos had fish as he and LaCava dine.
They discuss Martin.
Martin had brought his long-time pal Ivan Naccarata -- a teammate with the Canadian Junior National Team and Chipola College -- with him.
He’s been with his agent for a long time.
He’s close to both his parents.
He comes home to Montreal each off season.
“He’s a very grounded person, he has a lot of substance,” LaCava told Anthopoulos.
And then both men’s hearts stopped at the same time.
A man from Toronto at the next table recognized Anthopoulos and began talking ball.
Had he heard them discussing the chances of signing Martin?
Would a tweet boost up the price and alert the baseball world that the Jays came to Montreal for a press conference and stayedto talk free-agent business?
Nov. 5, Montreal. Anthopoulos phones Colleran.
The agent is having lunch with Naccarata.
“Ask Ivan if he enjoyed the game last night,” Anthopoulos tells the agent.
The answer is yes.
“Ask Ivan if he’d like to do it again?”
Again the answer is yes.
“Can you help a brother out and get Russell to sign with Toronto?” Anthopoulos asks.
Nov. 8 _ Chicago.Bruce Levine of CBS Chicago reports than the Cubs have met with Martin.
Also meetings are scheduled with the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Jays and Pirates, where Martin played the previous two seasons.
An MLB Traderumors poll of readers asks where Martin will sign.
The majority -- 43.37% -- pick the Cubs, 21.9% guess Dodgers and the Pirates 15.19%. The Jays receive 12.31% of the vote.
Martin did visit Chicago for a meeting a couple of days before.
1 Blue Jays Way The Jays were discouraged. They had resources, believed that they had a good chance and Martin had seemed sincere. It would be expensive going up against the Dodgers and the Cubs.
Anthopoulos called Chicago and asked Colleran to arrange a Sunday meeting. Beeston and he would come meet with Martin.
The GM drove to Montreal that night, leaving Toronto around 7, checking into a hotel around midnight.
Nov. 9, Laval, Que. Anthopoulos picks up Beeston at Dorval at 8 AM and heads to the Première Moisson coffee shop and bakery on Avenue Du Cosmodôme.
After introductions, Anthopoulos goes to the counter to buy coffee for three. And then he sat back, watched and listened.
“The meeting wasn’t for me, I thought it was important for Paul to meet with him,” Anthopoulos said.
Beeston explained why he thought Martin was a good fit for the Jays.
Money was not discussed and an offer wasn’t made.
They finished around 10 and on the way out the door an elderly couple recognized Martin.
The woman looked at Martin and says:
“C’est toi?” (It’s you?).
The husband says “it’s him, wouldn’t it be nice to have you play in Toronto next season?”
The woman leaned in for a kiss and Montreal’s favorite son hugged her.
Once in the parking lot traffic noise was drowned out by Beeston’s laughter as he roared “unbelievable, next time we’re trying to sign someone, we should stage something like that.”
The GM drops Beeston at the airport and drives past Kingston on his way to Pearson. He catches a 6:30 flight to Phoenix for the general managers meetings.
Martin will decline the Pirates qualifying offer reports Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com which means the team signing him loses its first pick in the June draft.
Nov. 10, Phoenix. Lobby talk at the Arizona Biltmore has the Jays pursung free agents Victor Martinez and Martin.
Chris Stewart and Cervelli will share time behind the plate.
Nov. 13, Phoenix. The Dodgers are in on Martin.
Nov. 14. On the world wide web. MLB Trade Rumors projects a five-year $72.5 million deal for Martin.
1 Blue Jays Way. Colleran calls. Time to make an offer.
The deal might go down within 24 hours.
The two sides talk at 6:30.
Nov. 15, 1 Blue Jays Way. The Jays present their first offer late Saturday morn.
The Jays ask for another phone call with Martin to re-iterate their position.
Beeston and Anthopoulos are on speaker phone.
They tell Martin LA, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Toronto were all great cities to play.
The Dodgers are always in the post-season, Chicago will explode if the Cubs win, Pittsburgh advanced the last two seasons and the Jays think that they can win.
Then, they talk about the convenience of playing in Toronto. Flights every hour on the hour for his mother and father to fly in from Montreal to two different airports. Or friends and family could get in a car and drive.
Jays games are now carried on TVA French-language TV. Anthopoulos tells Martin how he remembered growing up in Montreal watching Larry Walker, Vladimir Guerrero, Delino DeShields and Marquis Grissom. He asks what young kids in Montreal watch since the Expos left.
They talk about his legacy in Canada. What would it be if he helped the Jays end their 21-year playoff drought?
“Steve Nash was maybe one of the best Canadian NBA players ever, but what if he’d played for the Raptors, what kind of an impact would he have had?” Anthopoulos says. “You read about all these great Canadian college kids coming into the NBA and their inspiration was Vince Carter. How many kids stayed up to watch Phoenix Suns”?
They tell Martin how he has played for some storied franchises -- Dodgers, Yankees and Pirates -- but how many Canadians got the chance to see him play?
Who do kids impersonate? If Martin signs with the Jays Canadian kids could watch a great player who is Canadian.
Beeston, who often goes into his quote book to look up words of wisdom for forgiveness and other subjects quotes Jackie Robinson, who said “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.”
Despite the convenience, the stars aligning, his legacy, the No. 1 item on Martin’s wish list is winning.
Four-year offers were made by the Dodgers, Cubs and the Jays.
Martin decides to sleep on things.
Nov. 16, 1 Blue Jays Way.
The offers escalate again.
The Jays, the Dodgers ($74 million) and the Cubs ($70 million) make four-year offers?
After “four or five,” different offers the Jays go in for a fifth year: $82 million, an average annual salary of $16.4 million.
Twitter Fox Sports reports the Cubs are the leading contenders, offering a four-year, $64 million range.
An hour later a subsequent tweet that the Blue Jays could be seriously involved as well.
10 PM, Martin agrees.
Beeston and Anthopoulos phone to welcome Martin.
Martin replies: “I’m going to make you look good.”
He will earn $7 million next year, $15 million in 2016 and $20 million the final three seasons.
Nov. 17, MLB Network.
Hall of fame scribe Peter Gammons tweets that the Jays have signed Martin for what he describes as “McCann money” (Brian McCannsigned a five-year, $85 million deal with the Yankees a year ago).
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports has the $82 million package moments later.
Tampa Martin flies south for his physical and passes.
Tuesday, 1 Blue Jays Way. The Jays make his signing official.
Thursday, Rogers Centre Martin flies into Billy Bishop Toronto Island Airport and makes the short trip to the stadium. He brings his father, also named Russ, his girl and his pal Naccarata.
Martin is unveiled as the Jays largest free-agent signing, he’s now with Canada’s other national team.