ORLANDO -- In the end, one major-league general manager speculated Tuesday, whether Victor Martinez returns to the Boston Red Sox will probably depend on whether the team is willing to give the free-agent catcher a four-year deal, and he doubts that the Sox are.
Regardless, Red Sox GM Theo Epstein gave the strongest sign to date that the team would be willing to go into the 2011 season with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the only catcher with big-league experience on the roster, as its No. 1 catcher.
Epstein's endorsement of Saltalamacchia on Tuesday dovetailed with reports that the Florida Marlins were about to sign free-agent catcher John Buck, who projected as the second-best option to Martinez on the market. The Red Sox liked Buck, according to league sources, but not at the price -- a reported three-year deal in the $15 million-$16 million range -- that the Marlins evidently are willing to pay for him. The Sox anticipated Buck's price would reach a range they weren't willing to go.
Asked if he would be comfortable with Saltalamacchia opening the season as the No. 1 catcher, Epstein said:
"We'll probably have a more experienced guy than him on the roster as well, but I think we're comfortable with him in a role anywhere from backup to job share to everyday guy, depending on how the rest of the club shapes up," Epstein said. "We like him. Obviously we liked him from a scouting standpoint. We took an opportunity to buy low after he'd been through a rough period.
"He really impressed the staff, which had no vested interest in it. He really opened some eyes, from the manager [Terry Francona] to [catching instructor and bullpen coach] Gary Tuck to the pitching coach. The way he handled the pitchers, the way he threw, the way he conducted himself in the clubhouse, he was impressive to everybody.
"At some point you've got to give a chance to young players, let them build value, and he's one of those guys. [Jed] Lowrie is potentially another. [Ryan] Kalish is potentially another. We're not going to have high-profile solutions to all our needs, so it's good to have those alternatives you can turn to."
For the full report by Gordon Edes, click here.