What losing Martinez means for Red Sox

BOSTON -- This is your job, Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Victor Martinez is out as the everyday catcher for the Boston Red Sox, which leaves Saltalamacchia, who has 813 big-league at-bats in his career, as No. 1 on the Sox depth chart.

Reports out of Venezuela indicate that Martinez has come to terms on a four-year, $12.5 million deal with the Detroit Tigers, who coveted Martinez as a middle-of-the-order complement to young catcher Alex Avila as well as a DH/first-base alternative to Miguel Cabrera.

The Tigers’ bid eclipsed the two final offers from the Red Sox, according to a baseball source: a three-year, $36 million deal or a four-year deal for $42 million. The Tigers’ deal, assuming it is accurate, averages out to $12.5 million a year, more than the average annual value of Boston’s proposed three-year deal ($12 million) or four-year deal ($10.5 million).

Martinez is a Type A free agent, meaning the Red Sox will receive the Tigers’ No. 1 pick (No. 19 overall) and a first-round “sandwich” pick (a pick that will come after the regular first round and before the second round). Next June’s draft class is anticipated to be very strong, and the ’11 draft may be the last in which the Sox will be able to employ their very successful strategy of paying above slot in later rounds for premium talent that dropped because of contract demands.

With the collective bargaining agreement due to expire in November, the draft is expected to undergo extensive revisions as part of negotiations.

Martinez was an extremely productive hitter for the Red Sox since his acquisition from Cleveland at the 2009 trading deadline. Martinez, who turns 32 on Dec. 23, batted .313 in 183 games with the Red Sox, with 28 home runs and 120 RBIs.

Last season, he was the only big-league catcher in the majors to hit .300 or better while hitting 20 or more home runs, despite missing 22 games with a fractured left thumb. He was dominating against left-handed pitchers, batting .400, slugging .742 and posting a 1.173 OPS

Seen in a vacuum, allowing themselves to be outbid for Martinez translates as a major loss for the Sox, who quite likely will wind up parting ways with another great source of right-handed power in their lineup, free agent third baseman Adrian Beltre. While his inability to throw out base-runners (only 17 caught stealing in 133 attempts) was a concern, the Red Sox showed an apparent willingness to live with that, at least for the short term.

How great a loss Martinez’s departure will depend, first, on the bet Boston has placed on Saltalamacchia that he will evolve into the player the Sox believe he will, and two, the other moves the Sox make, not only this winter, but in the next 12 months. If the Sox ultimately succeed in their pursuit of Adrian Gonzalez, sign right-handed power hitter Jayson Werth or execute a trade for Justin Upton (a long shot), then allowing Martinez to go will look a lot better than it does now.

The Sox will sign a complementary veteran catcher behind Saltalamacchia, and it is not out of the question, a baseball source said Tuesday, that it could be long-time team captain, Jason Varitek. The Sox have until midnight Tuesday to decide whether to offer arbitration to Varitek, a Type B free agent who turns 39 next April. Even if they don’t, they can continue to negotiate with him.