Now that catcher Victor Martinez is gone, where do Red Sox fans turn?
Who is going to be behind the plate next season. Will it be Varitek, Saltalamacchia....Kevin Cash?
These (okay, so hopefully not Kevin Cash) are all possible choices for the Red Sox in 2011. One thing has to be said, though: the market is incredibly short for catchers. If you want a grade A catcher, he's got to come up through the farm system, plain and simple.
I humbly present five possible catching scenarios that could happen for the '11 Sox.
The Good: Olivo is probably the best defensive catcher on the market currently, and threw out 42% of potential base stealer's last year, good for second in the Major Leagues.
Olivo’s trade from the Rockies to the Blue Jays this offseason was merely a formality that would give the Blue Jays a supplemental draft pick in the 2011 first year player draft if he were to sign with another team.
The Blue Jays are back loaded with young catchers, most notably JP Arencibia, and Olivo wouldn’t be getting the playing time in Toronto that he’s looking for.
Olivo is capable of getting hot with the bat, as evidenced by his 2010 first half split of 11 HR, 42 RBI, and a .325/.377/.548 line.
The Bad: Unfortunately, Olivo isn’t exactly an offensive wizard either, as evidenced by his 2010 second half split of 3 HR, 16 RBI, and a .193/.225/.313 batting line. His career averages of .246/.283/.427 are mediocre at best. This, coupled with the fact that he does not walk very much and strikes out a great deal doesn’t make him the perfect candidate for a Red Sox offensive.
Prognosis: Not likely
Despite Olivo’s defensive efficiency, he’s not really an offensive upgrade over most of the other guys who the Sox could bring in.
The Good: Napoli is one of the better hitting catchers in the big leagues and has a little pop to his bat. Last year, Napoli had 26 HR and 68 RBI in 453 AB, while hitting .238/.316/.468.
His career OBP, however, is .346, and his career OPS rests at 0.831. While Napoli's totals were up last year, his averages were down, which could be attributed to him setting a new career high in games played (140), and a larger focus on defense and fundamentals, at least at the start of the year.
Napoli will likely be made expendable by a healthy Kendry Morales at first, and Jeff Mathis behind the plate, and should become available at some point during the regular season.
Napoli is also under arbitration for the next two seasons, so the Sox could acquire him without significant qualms to their long term financial status.
The Bad: Napoli has never really been a full time catcher, and as he approaches 30 years of age, projects more as a 1B/DH type. He's not really what you're looking for in a defensive catcher, either.
Prognosis: Possibility, but only if another option goes down
The Sox would probably prefer a number of guys over Napoli, but if something were to happen to a catcher during the season, Napoli could fill the role as a decent backup/fill in. Given the shallow depth at the catching position for the Sox, one injury could be the prompt to acquire Napoli from the Angels.
The Good: Martin is a possible non-tender candidate for the Los Angeles Dodgers. If he were to hit free agency, he’d likely be a cheap addition that would allow them to divert funds toward other expenditures (Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth anyone?)
He also happens to be one of the better defensive catchers in the majors, and he threw out 39% of potential base stealer's last season, good for the third-best mark in the Majors.
If you're like me, and cringed every time the Red Sox butchered a throw to second base last season, en route to the second-to-worst caught stealing percentage (20) in the Major Leauge's, then Russell Martin could be your man.
The Bad: Once a top prospect in the Dodgers organization, he’s disappointed many in terms of his offensive output. He’s just a career .272/.365/.396 hitter, and his numbers have slowly plummeted to their 2010 rock bottom line of .248/.347/.332.
Prognosis: Very Possible...Wait, what!?
Martin is still just 27, and while he might not be the most sound offensive player, he’ll be suitable enough, especially with the protection he’ll get in the Red Sox lineup (even at the bottom). He’s no Kevin Cash at the plate, let’s put it that way.
Martin also possesses the always elusive “potential” factor, and you know Theo would just love to turn his career around.
The Good: Barajas is a seasoned, veteran presence who is a good all around player. He's defensively sound, and, for his age and position, isn't a slouch offensively. Barajas has 36 HR over the last two seasons in 742 AB, which equates to roughly one HR per 21 ABs.
He would be a reliable stopgap until Salty is ready to take over the job full time, or they choose to go in another direction.
The Bad: Barajas, like most catchers on the market, isn't an outstanding offensive player in the grand scheme of things. He's just a career .239/.284/.412 hitter, and at age 35 doesn't offer much in the way of upside
Barajas could actually be expensive (relatively) as there should be a number of teams in the mix for his veteran presence in the paper thin catching market.
Prognosis: Very Possible
If the Sox aren't able to acquire Martin, I think there's only one situation that would keep them from making a push for Barajas, and that's...
The Good: Both men are switch hitters, so it will allow the Red Sox to play matchups on a nightly basis, and put out the roster they think they have the best chance to win with.
Salty would probably get the bulk of his starts against right-handed pitching. Notice the drastic difference between his righty-lefty career splits:
Vs RHP: 512 AB 140 H 15 HR 68 RBI .273/.343/.422
Vs LHP: 301 AB 62 H 8 HR 27 RBI .206/.266/.326
That’s a career difference of 0.173 OPS points between right handed and left handed pitchers, a huge margin for MLB standards.
Varitek would likely get the starts against lefties. Just look at his 2010 splits:
Vs RHP: 85 AB 20 H 4 HR 11 RBI .235/.298/.435
Vs LHP: 27 AB 9 H 3 HR 7 RBI .222/.276/.593
Despite having 58 fewer at bats from the right handed side, Tek had just one fewer home run. This caused his SLG % to skyrocket more than a point and half, while his OPS remained well over .800.
This is in line with Varitek’s career splits; he’s hit HR at just a rate of 28.4 AB against righties, while he’s averaged one every 23.5 AB against lefties. He also has a career 0.830 OPS against left-handed batters.
And if the Sox are truly committed to seeing Saltalamacchia through, there’s no one better in baseball to have as a backup then Jason Varitek. He’s the best game caller in baseball, and is renowned for his studious preparation. He would have nothing but a positive impact on Salty, as he would be able to mentor him on a day-to-day basis.
The Bad: If Salty struggles, the Red Sox are ill equipped to handle the situation. At this point, it’s unlikely that Tek can handle the rigors of an everyday job while still producing or even staying healthy.
And if Tek goes down to injury, thrusting Salty into the full time job too soon could prove harmful.
And if both go down due to injury, poor production, or some combination of the two, well… how about one more year of Kevin Cash?
God, I hope not.
Prognosis: Highly likely
The Red Sox must know something about Salty that we don’t, and they wouldn’t put him into a situation where he’s getting the majority of the starts without thinking that he can’t handle it (we hope).
Early indications make it look like Salty will have the first chance at the majority share of the job.
And, it would allow the captain to end his career in Boston, something that Varitek, the ownership, and the fans would all love to see.