Sox, Salty come to terms on 1-year deal

A year away from being eligible for free agency, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia agreed to terms on a one-year, $4.5 million contract with the Red Sox. The club announced the signing; agent James Munsey confirmed the terms.

By coming to agreement, Saltalamacchia avoids salary arbitration. The Sox have eight players still eligible for arbitration, including newcomer Joel Hanrahan, reliever Andrew Bailey, and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury.

The announcement of Saltalamacchia’s signing comes on the same day of reports that Mike Napoli had come to terms with the Red Sox on a one-year deal. There had been speculation that Napoli’s signing could open the way to a trade of Saltalamacchia, but at this stage it is evident that the Sox intend to use Napoli at first base. Mauro Gomez and David Ortiz are the only other first basemen on the roster.

Saltalamacchia figures to be the team’s No. 1 catcher, backed up by veteran David Ross, who projects to catch in the neighborhood of 40 to 50 games. Ryan Lavarnway will come to camp intent on challenging Saltalamacchia for the job, but the most likely scenario has Lavarnway returning to Triple-A Pawtucket. A trade is another possibility.

Saltalamacchia plans to be here. “He’s ready to go,’’ Munsey said in a text of his client, whose offensive numbers remained very consistent in his first two seasons as Boston’s No. 1 c atcher. Saltalamacchia had an on-base percentage of .288 in both seasons, and his on-base-plus-slugging (OPS) was .737 in 2011, .742 in 2012. His home runs increased by 9, from 25 to 16, in 62 more plate appearances.

Manager Bobby Valentine, in his one year with the Red Sox, likened Saltalamacchia to Orioles star catcher Matt Wieters and said Saltalamacchia was an “underappreciated” player.

"I think he’s one little step away from being an extremely productive offensive player," Valentine said in late September. "I mean, right now, you’d have to think his season is comparable with Wieters, who people are thinking is an MVP of, or close to an MVP of a playoff team. That’s just how close he is, I think."

He also praised Saltalamacchia for his work behind the plate.

“I never saw it fall off with his struggles," Valentine said. "And if you look at the video, there’s a lot of times he's sitting where the ball -- if the ball went to the place he's sitting, we'd probably get a ground-ball double play instead of missed by two feet, and wind up a double in the gap. Not every time, but often. Yeah, I’ve said, he’s underappreciated, that’s for sure.’’