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Dodgers

Former Blue Jay Russell Martin gives his take on team’s handling of Vladimir Guerrero Jr.

Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. reacts to a strike call during his first at-ba
Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. reacts to a strike call during his first at-bat during the second inning against the Oakland Athletics in Toronto.
(Frank Gunn / Associated Press)

Russell Martin dispelled the nonsense quickly. The biggest story in baseball on Friday was the debut of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. with the Toronto Blue Jays — long-awaited, but also long-delayed.

Martin, a native Canadian, played with the Blue Jays last season. Guerrero was ready for the major leagues last season, and Martin was well aware of the national excitement surrounding him. The Blue Jays could give all the lip service they wished to his alleged defensive shortcomings, but the fact is that the team kept perhaps the best player in their organization out of the major leagues.

“They can say whatever they want,” Martin said. “They try to make smart decisions. Whether they want to admit it or not, it is a business move, right? Whether we criticize it or not, they have a purpose to what they do.”

By delaying his major league debut, the Blue Jays guaranteed they could control Guerrero through the 2025 season instead of the 2024 season. But you never know in baseball: The New York Yankees have a borough’s worth of players on the disabled list, the Boston Red Sox have the second-worst run differential in the American League, and what if the Blue Jays turn out to have a decent chance in 2019 but lose a playoff spot by one or two games?

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“The Yankees are beat up, but they’re still playing pretty good,” Martin said. “What if you call him up and you still stink?”

The game’s two top prospects this spring were Guerrero and San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. The Padres did not prioritize 2025 ahead of 2019. Instead, they included Tatis on their opening day roster, and he entered play Friday with a .947 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, the highest of any shortstop in the National League West, and among the top 20 for all NL players. The Padres opened play Friday one game out of first place in the NL West.

Martin said he understood the Blue Jays’ motivations in keeping Guerrero down.

“Do I like it? No,” Martin said. “But I understand it.”

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The Blue Jays are building with a core of Guerrero and two other sons of major league stars — Dante Bichette Jr. and Cavan Biggio, son of Craig — both at triple A.

“They’re trying to find the time where they’re going to have the best window,” Martin said. “That’s just what it is.

“What if you get one up too early, and you get to a point three or four or five years down the road where you need the cash to get that one free agent you want and, if you would have waited that extra month, you could have had him?”

Chances are, that would be reality only if the Blue Jays wanted it to be. The Blue Jays play in the fourth-largest market in the major leagues. Beyond Toronto, they have a national market, as Canada’s only major league team.

And, beyond Toronto, the major leagues have a problem. The league’s economic structure provides a perverse incentive to keep great players out of the majors.

“If somebody is good enough to play, they should play,” Martin said. “The business side gets in the way of that sometimes.”

Short hops

The Dodgers plan to activate Martin and pitcher Rich Hill this weekend, with both penciled into Sunday’s starting lineup. Martin (back) has not played since April 8; Hill (knee) has not pitched this season. The Dodgers’ catchers — Martin, Austin Barnes and Rocky Gale — entered play Friday batting .209, but they ranked sixth in the National League with a .340 on-base percentage … Left-handed reliever Tony Cingrani (shoulder) could start a minor league rehabilitation assignment next week, manager Dave Roberts said. Cingrani has pitched one-third of an inning in the past 10 months. The Dodgers’ bullpen entered play Friday with a 4.83 ERA, worst of any team in the NL West.

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bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Follow Bill Shaikin on Twitter @BillShaikin


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