Detroit Tigers Sign Victor Martinez: 10 Reasons Red Sox Will Regret Losing Him
It's official: free agent catcher Victor Martinez has signed a 4 year, $50 million deal with the Detroit Tigers, leaving a noticeable void behind the plate for the Boston Red Sox.
Let it be known that Martinez did not want to leave. He wanted to know where he would likely play out the remainder of his career, and where he would likely retire. He wanted to know where his son, Victor Jose, would be going to school. He wanted to know where he and his family would be calling home for the foreseeable future. The Red Sox provided no certain answers to any of these questions, so V-Mart had to leave.
Some people have blamed the Red Sox for letting one of the most important pieces leave. Others have applauded it, saying that most catchers decline rapidly once they hit their 30s, so Martinez won't be worth the money.
I don't think letting Victor leave was a good idea, and here's why; without further ado, I present "10 Reasons Red Sox Will Regret Losing Him."
Jarrod Saltalamacchia Is Unproven
Jarrod Saltalamacchia must be the happiest man on the planet right now.
The now 25 year old former Texas Rangers top prospect is the first person in line to inherit the majority share of the catching duties. He remains the only catcher currently on the Red Sox Major Leauge roster, although it's highly likely that Boston will now make an effort to bring back team veteran Jason Varitek.
Once highly regarded as one of the best prospects in baseball, injuries and inconsistency derailed what seemed to be a direct path to the majors.
"Salty" now has parts of four MLB seasons under his belt, and he's failed to impress despite ample opportunities.
While the talent is there, there's no denying the struggles Saltalamacchia has had on the Major League level. He's not a defensive upgrade over Martinez; both have had struggles throwing out runners, and there's no way Salty has any sort of familiarity with the Red Sox staff (he played just 43.2 innings at the catcher position last year after the Red Sox traded for him).
And, unless some act of divine providence reaches out (ala Angels in the Outfield), Salty hasn't a prayer of replacing V-Mart offensively.
Victor's Offensive Dominance In General and Against Lefties
If I asked you who the best offensive catcher in baseball was, who would you say?
Joe Mauer? No. Brian McCann? No.
It's Victor Martinez.
Since 2004, his first full-time season, Victor has ranked in the top three among catchers in home runs and average five times, and runs and RBI six times. Other than an injury plagued 2008, Victor has been first or tied for first in RBI among catchers in every single season.
Every single season.
People call Victor overrated, but when you look at his numbers in comparison to what the rest of the catching field is doing, he might be the most underrated player in all of baseball.
Another sobering fact for Red Sox fans is Martinez' dominance against left handed pitching.
Last year, Victor hit .400 against lefties. He's well documented as a very good hitter from both sides of the plate, but this kind of stat cannot be ignored.
If the season started today, the Red Sox would likely start three left handed batters; David Ortiz, JD Drew, and Jacoby Ellsbury, all of whom have had struggles with left handed pitching. However, Victor is no longer their to make up for their struggles.
Also, CC Sabathia, Andy Pettitte, and David Price are all left handed pitchers who play for division rivals. The Red Sox will have to beat out at least the Yankees or the Rays if they want a playoff spot each year, and they have to win games on a regular basis against lefties like these.
Also, the possibility of a Cliff Lee to New York scenario doesn't bode well for the Sox either. Lee could probably have his way with the Red Sox lineup in its current state, and his addition the Yankees staff would give them three very good, left-handed pitchers, an aspect of the game the Sox struggle with.
Yet even if Lee doesn't end up a Yankee, it's possible that the Sox will have to go through him en route to an AL Pennant and/or World Series title, and Victor would be a fabulous weapon against him.
Trust of The Pitching Staff
While Victor wasn't known for his amazing behind the plate defense, any Red Sox fan will tell you that Martinez made significant progress in his game calling abilities during his time in Boston.
When he first arrived in town, there were questions of whether or not the Red Sox starting rotation would ever fully adjust to him. They did. Martinez gained the trust of the staff, even though he continued to struggle to throw out runners.
In any case, 2011 is shaping up to be a critical juncture for the Red Sox starting staff. Both Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are on the cusp of becoming the best two man front in baseball. Both are absolutely brimming with talent, and could well be fighting each other out for the Cy Young next season.
Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Daisuke Matsuzaka are all coming off of down years which they cannot afford to repeat. The Red Sox have too much money and years invested in all three to see them continue to struggle.
So what do the Red Sox do? They let the man who had finally learned the nuances of his staff and the finer points of catching walk. In his place stands a 25 year old, with little Major League experience and virtually no experience with his starting rotation.
The Red Sox pulled the rug out from underneath their pitching rotation. Boston fans can only hope they don't see the ripple effects in 2011.
No Other Options On The Horizon in The Red Sox Organization
What happens if Salalamacchia doesn't get the job done? What happens if he or Varitek gets injured? Who's next in line for the job?
There's little on the horizon.
With the Red Sox organization, there's little to get excited about. Names like Mark Wagner and Luis Exposito are names that have been tossed around, but neither of them are Major League ready.
The fact of the matter is, the Red Sox currently have virtually no catching depth on the Major or Minor League level. An injury or poor production from whoever they use behind the backstop in 2011 could prove disastrous.
Free Agent/Trade Market Isn't Good For Catchers
So if the Red Sox have little organizational depth behind the plate, it might make sense to go out and acquire a catcher via free ageny or trade.
The only problem is, there's not much out there to go get.
Mike Napoli of the Angels is one possibility. He has a mediocre bat with power upside and below average defensive skills. He's also never appeared in more than 100 games at catcher in one season, which could lead to questions of whether or not he could hold up for an entire season.
The disappointing Russell Martin of the Los Angeles Dodgers is also another option. Once a top prospect in the Dodgers organization, Martin has played below most people's expectations for him. He's sound defensively, but doesn't provide much offensive ability at all. He, like Saltalamacchia, would be nothing more than a gamble.
In my opinion, Miguel Olivo is a likely candidate for the Red Sox. He's a free agent this year, and has reportedly spiked the interest of a number of teams, Red Sox included. He's above average defensively, and threw out the second highest percentage of base stealer's last year (42.3). He can get hot with the bat at times, but doesn't offer much at the plate overall.
AJ Pierzynski is a possibility as well, but it doesn't make much sense to bring in a veteran like him when they could just bring back Jason Varitek, but strangers things have happened.
National League Lineup
My biggest fear is one that some people might not expect.
Last year, when both Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek were out with injuries, the Red Sox employed the services of one Kevin Cash for 29 games.
Cash had experience with the Sox before, and was a solid emergency option. However, he hit just .133 in 60 AB's. Because of this, the Red Sox were, in effect, a National League lineup for 29 games last season. It was truly painful to watch. Cash was a guaranteed out, much like the pitcher, and squashed every offensive run that the Red Sox managed to put together.
While it's unlikely that whoever the Sox bring in will be as offensively limited as Cash, poor production or an injury to a very thin position could bring about this phenomena again.
When you're competing in the throes of the AL East, it's not handy to give up an out every nine batters.
It Could Come Back To Bite Them
While Martinez thankfully didn't sign with an AL East team, an improved Tigers team have a legitimate shot at winning the AL Central.
Somewhere down the line, it's possible that the Red Sox meet the Tigers in the postseason. If this does happen, and Martinez helps lead them past the Sox, fans aren't likely to forget that they could have resigned him.
The Red Sox Have to Spend The Money Anyways
The irony of this situation is that the Red Sox didn't save any money in this deal, nor did they avoid answering the questions that bringing back Martinez would have created. All they did was create a new problem; a new set of questions.
Funds that they now don't have to spend on Martinez will be diverted somewhere else. The Red Sox need to fill the void that the absence of Martinez' bat will create.
Likely candidates are Jayson Werth, Carl Crawford, and the resigning of 3B Adrian Beltre.
However, much like Martinez, all three pose a number of questions, for example:
How will Jayson Werth adjust to Fenway/the American League? Can he really elevate his game to superstar status?
How will Carl Crawford adjust as he gets older? Will he be able to transition from a base stealer into a reliable middle of the lineup guy?
Will Adrian Beltre continue the offensive displays he showed in 2010?
The Red Sox would likely be paying a similar 4 year, $50 million deal (or more) to any one of these guys, but each come with their own set of questions. None of them are necessarily safer bets than Martinez.
Letting Victor Leave Goes Against The Red Sox Philosophy
Since the new ownership has taken over, the Red Sox have always spent money. It will probably always be this way as long as the Yankees are in the same division with them.
4 years, $50 million is pennies for the Red Sox. They've got more committed to John Jackey's right shin then the Tigers have to all of Victor Martinez.
And, to top it all of, the Red Sox are no strangers to overpaying for a players services now and risking the fact that they might decline later. John Lackey and Josh Beckett both received five and four year deals (worth 82.5 and 68 million) respectively, and both will be in their mid 30's when each expires.
Is it really that bad to give Martinez a deal now? He hasn't shown any signs of decline yet, and even if he only gave the Sox two years on his current production level, you can justify the signing. Risking a few million dollars is a much safer bet than taking your chances in a paper thin catching market, especially when this team is built to win now.
Bad For Team Character
In 2004, the Red Sox captured their first World Series title in 86 years. That team and that season were both magical. Cultivating personalities captured every Boston fan. The personable feel of the team and the diverse personalities were part of the fun; you never knew what you were going to get.
I love the Red Sox as much as anyone. But at times last season, watching the Red Sox play was like watching a fax machine fax.
A lot of this had to do with the myriad injuries the Red Sox suffered, and the ensuing frustration it created.
However, guys like Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia, while very good ballplayers, offer little for the everyday fan to relate to. They go about their business, and only like to draw attention to themselves through the work they put in on the diamond.
Letting Martinez walk takes away one of the few relatable personalities in the Red Sox clubhouse.