As they assessed their catching situation last winter, the Red Sox considered signing free agent Russell Martin. But they had concerns about his health, namely a torn labrum in his right hip that sidelined him last August, and so, according to a baseball source, they offered him only a minor-league contract.
Martin opted for a $4 million, one-year deal from the Yankees.
Turns out, it may have been the best thing for the Red Sox.
By not outbidding the Yankees for Martin, a former All-Star, the Sox essentially reaffirmed their commitment to Jarrod Saltalamacchia. And as the age-old AL East rivals wrap up their latest three-game grudge match tonight at Fenway Park, it’s clear which catcher is having the better year.
After a painfully slow start in which he became the poster boy for a Red Sox team that dropped 10 of its first 12 games, Saltalamacchia (Herald photo) is batting .284 with 10 doubles, 10 homers, 28 RBIs, 31 runs scored and a .920 OPS in 44 games since May 15. During that same time, Martin, whose hot start led to an All-Star Game selection, is batting only .212 with six doubles, five homers, 23 RBIs, 23 runs scored and a .631 OPS. Overall, Saltalamacchia has the superior batting average (.254 to .224) and OPS (.784 to .703), and despite getting 63 more at-bats, Martin has only a slight edge in home runs (12 to 10) and RBIs (45 to 36).
In particular, Saltalamacchia has improved his proficiency for throwing out base stealers. After nabbing both Derek Jeter and Eduardo Nunez on Friday night, and even after his errant throw on Curtis Ganderson’s steal of second yesterday, he has caught seven of the last 18 runners since July 6. Before that, he had gotten only nine of 56.
It has led teams to think twice before running on the Red Sox, who were an easy target last season when Victor Martinez handled most of the catching duties. And it has proven that Saltalamacchia’s throwing problems last year with the Texas Rangers are no longer an issue. Saltalamacchia modestly credits the pitchers for closely holding runners, but there’s no denying his release has been quicker and his throws more accurate. For that, manager Terry Francona gives an appreciative nod to catching coach Gary Tuck, who worked intensely with Saltalamacchia at least twice a week for nine weeks last winter in West Palm Beach, Fla.
“He’s coming up, straight up, throwing downhill on a line to second, and it’s really exciting,” Francona said. “He’s always had this in him, but for whatever, whether it was physically, maybe sometimes it got a little mental, he’s coming out of the chute throwing really well.
“That first three, four weeks of the season, you could tell, it was going really fast for him. Now, everything’s coming to him. It’s exciting to watch guys progress like that.”