A couple of years ago when I first heard the Red Sox and Theo Epstein had lusted after catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia of the Texas Rangers, I couldn't understand why. I was never really sold on his ability as an everyday catcher, let alone a hitter, while playing in Texas.
Yet Epstein and the Red Sox were...
“We like him. We liked him from scouting standpoint, we took opportunity to buy low after he’d been through a rough period and then he really impressed the staff, who really had no vested interest in him. He really opened some eyes,. From the manager [Terry Francona] to Gary Tuck to pitching coach, the way he handled pitchers, the way he threw, the way he conducted himself in the clubhouse. He was impressive to everybody.”
Saltalamacchia was traded to Boston by Texas at the July 2010 trade deadline for a player to be named later and some cash. The Sox sent Michael Thomas (minors) to Texas in order to complete the deal.
Red Sox nation had it's doubts.
After struggling in April with a .216 average, .273 OBP and 14 total bases, Saltalamacchia has come around over his last 47 games, hitting .283 with a .355 OBP, .572 SLG, .927 OPS, 11 HR, 30 RBI and 34 runs scored.
According to Tony Massarotti of 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston, Saltalamacchia was only 8 for 49 (or 16 percent) in throwing out runners attempting to steal when the season began. In the last 28 attempted steals, Saltalamacchia's been 11 for 28 (or 40 percent). A tremendous defensive increase in keeping runners from advancing.
Clearly, Saltalamacchia is proving some doubters wrong. Sources within the organization credit his improvement to dedication and hard work, especially his work with Tuck, the Red Sox bullpen coach.
In Friday night's home opener against the aggressive Yankees base runners, Saltalamacchia threw out Derek Jeter in the third inning with home run threat Curtis Granderson at the plate. Then in the top of the seventh with Jeter batting, Saltalamacchia threw out Eduardo Nunez to end the inning.
What about Monday night's road opener against the Twins with slow-paced knuckle ball pitcher Tim Wakefield on the mound going for his 200th win? In the bottom of the seventh with the game tied 5-5, with two outs and Matt Tolbert on first base, Wakefield made several attempts throwing over to first to keep Tolbert close to the bag.
When Tolbert took off running, Saltalamacchia threw a dart down to second base and threw Tolbert out to end the inning and any further threat.
His offensive contribution included a home run in the sixth inning to tie the game and a soft liner to left, scoring Dustin Pedroia for an insurance run in the ninth to help secure the win.
The improvement is nothing short of impressive.
Through 72 games played, Saltalamacchia has already matched or surpassed career highs in runs, doubles, triples, HR, RBI, walks, SLG and OPS.
Credit to Epstein and the Red Sox for this pickup. There's no doubt the Sox are getting there money's worth, as they only have to pay him $750,000 for 2011. Certainly, if he keeps this pace up he'll deserve a substantial pay increase and contract extension.