PITTSBURGH -- For all the talk about the pitching depth added via free agency and trade acquisitions made by the Detroit Tigers this winter, the one offseason signing that is paying the largest dividends was essentially an afterthought by comparison.
When Tigers general manager Al Avila announced the signing of veteran catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, it was mildly surprising, not that the team was parting ways with Avila's son Alex -- that much was forecasted for months -- but because it didn't seem to be a priority on the club's offseason shopping list.
Saltalamacchia’s arrival sparked interest not because of an exorbitant salary or a suspect deal -- he signed a one-year contract for the league minimum -- but because it would likely spell the departure of 28-year-old Bryan Holaday.
In retrospect, that may go down as one of the most shrewd moves of the winter for Avila in his first full offseason as general manager.
Saltalamacchia, who was targeted by the Tigers for the pop he would provide from the left side of the plate -- a necessity in a heavily right-handed lineup -- already has recorded a pair of four-RBI games in just four games. The 30-year-old's latest came on Wednesday with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the sixth inning, when Saltalamacchia smoked a 95 mph slider from Arquimedes Caminero for a grand slam to deep right, giving the Tigers a 5-2 lead over the Pirates. The Tigers went on to win 7-3.
Saltalamacchia said he was looking for a fastball and wasn't approaching the at-bat with the intention of going deep.
"I was really trying to hit it over the shortstop's head," Saltalamacchia said. "Try not to get too big. Then he threw a slider that went down and in to my swing."
Saltalamacchia's grand slam was the 100th home run of his career, a feat he can appreciate as a reflection of his longevity -- this will be his 10th season in the major leagues.
"Of course, to be able to have enough time in to accomplish something like that, it's a great feeling," Saltalamacchia said. "And to be able to help us obviously get the lead and win, it's an even better feeling."
This wasn't his first big night as a Detroit Tiger.
One week ago, Saltalamacchia went 2-for-5, including a two-run homer, in Detroit’s 7-3 win over his former team, the Miami Marlins, in his Tigers debut. Saltalamacchia also has showcased a cannon of an arm that should begin to make opposing baserunners wary.
There is no better time for Saltalamacchia to step up for his new team, either, considering starting catcher James McCann was recently placed on the 15-day disabled list with a right ankle sprain. The Tigers made a low-risk gamble on the veteran back in December. That’s looking like a pretty wise pickup right now.