To this point, it's not been a great offseason for the Red Sox, who lost one of their best players when Victor Martinez signed with the Tigers. Here's Alex Speier on the (non-)move, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia's apparent ascendance:
- So, why did the Sox balk?
Multiple Red Sox sources indicated they felt that, even with the strides that Martinez made this year to perform at a respectable level, he is unlikely to remain a viable everyday catcher for more than two more seasons. After that, he would likely be consigned to duty as a designated hitter and first baseman. When that happens, his value will drop precipitously.
That might explain why the Sox initially approached Martinez with a two-year offer during the season. His current production as a catcher would justify one of the richest contracts ever for a backstop. And this past year, his OPS ranked fifth in the majors among catchers.
But even his current production as a DH/first baseman would have been far more modest. His .838 OPS would have ranked 18th among DH/first basemen, just ahead of Jack Cust (a likely non-tender candidate by the A’s) and just behind Vladimir Guerrero (whose $9 million option was declined by the Rangers).
And that's really that. If Martinez can't (or won't be allowed to) catch, he's not worth the money the Tigers gave him. He's not really worth what the Red Sox supposedly offered him, either (three years, $36 million, or four and $40 million). But the Red Sox can afford to overpay a little.
Not a lot, though. Four years and $50 million is a lot if Martinez isn't catching regularly in the third and fourth years.
More to the point, the Red Sox understand a simple truth about free agents in their 30s: They're a great way to look foolish. If you make a list of the 100 worst moves in the last 30 years, you're going to find a few trades and a bumper crop of contracts given to free agents in their 30s.
Victor Martinez is almost 32. If he's not still playing brilliantly at 34 and 35, it's not a killer. Given MLB's ever-expanding revenues and the relatively modest, $12.5 million Average Annual Value (AAV) of the deal, it won't rank among the dozen worst contracts in the majors. It's just not the sort of thing you can do much of, and still expect to win almost every year. Which is why the Red Sox aren't doing it.
Meanwhile ... Jarrod Saltalamacchia? Sorry, but I'm not buying it. The good news is that a) Salty's a switch-hitter, and b) Salty's fared significantly better against right-handed pitchers, as a major leaguer. As it happens, there's a certain Red Sox captain who just happens to c) also be a switch-hitter, and d) fare somewhat better against left-handed pitchers. This certain someone is old and can't really throw, but he's been there forever and there are people in the front office who think the world of him.
A Saltamacchia/Varitek platoon (of sorts) next year won't give the Red Sox the production they got from Martinez this year. But it should be decent in the short term, while helping the franchise avoid a long-term mistake.