With Victor Martinez headed to the Detroit Tigers, the Red Sox appear set with Jarrod Saltalamacchia as their starting catcher with an intriguing possibility of long-time starting catcher, Jason Varitek, coming back for one more year.
Before Red Sox nation jumps off the cliff regarding VMart leaving at the cost of Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price, while getting the Tigers first-round pick and a sandwich pick in the 2011 MLB Amateur Draft, Saltalamacchia is entering his age-26 season and was considered a top catching prospect before stumbling along four seasons with the Atlanta Braves and the Texas Rangers.
There are some positives that should be noted when it comes to Saltalamachia's potential. In 238 at-bats with the Rangers AAA team last year, Salty hit 11 home runs. Yes, it is not the bigs, but it is a indicator that Saltalamacchia was beginning to turn it around offensively.
Here is another stat: In his last three major league seasons, Saltalamacchia has hit .263 with an OPS of .745 during his age 23 through 25 seasons. From a defensive point of view, he threw out 24 percent of would-be base stealer's in 2009 when he played a career-high 83 games behind the plate for the Rangers.
In 2009 and 2010, Martinez threw out 14 percent and 21 percent of would-be base stealers.
If Varitek is brought back to backup Salty and play against left-handed pitchers, the Red Sox may have a viable platoon behind the plate at a cost that is a fraction of what VMart garnered today (four years at $12.5 million AAV).
This permits the Red Sox to spend the $30 to $35 million that it will likely spend in free agency and arbitration/salary increases to address the other pressing needs including its bullpen, first base/third base dilemma and left field.
Salty may not be the top-50 prospect that he once was in 2006 or 2007, but he is under the fiscal control of the Red Sox through the 2013 season and that will permit Epstein and company to use their dollars in other areas that need an upgrade.
The downside to this option is obviously experience. He has played 200 games behind the plate in the major leagues. How many games did Varitek play before entering his age 26 season? One game. Victor Martinez played 181 games.
Saltalamacchia will never be as good of a hitter as Victor Martinez and he will never be as good as a defensive catcher as Jason Varitek.
However, the fact that he has been given the opportunity to catch what amounts to one-and-a-quarter seasons behind the plate before turning age 26, which is widely considered the turning point for catchers to fully mature, then maybe the Red Sox were able to buy low and catch a former top-50 baseball prospect at the time when they finally become fully developed.