By Gordon Edes/ESPN
“… the issue that is bubbling just under the surface -- and the cracks won't contain the lava much longer -- revolves around catcher Jarod Saltalamacchia
The season is just 16 games old, and there are ominous signs that a worst-case scenario is developing for the 25-year-old catcher, whose throwing problems are growing increasingly impossible to ignore.
NESN and MLB Network analyst Peter Gammons joined the Mut & Merloni Show on Wednesday to discuss some areas of ongoing early-season concern for the Red Sox. In particular, he suggested that the defensive struggles of Jarrod Saltalamacchia may force the Sox to explore alternatives, given that at 39 years old, Jason Varitek is ill-suited to be an everyday catcher.
"You just can’t have this on a championship team, especially when a big part of that championship team is built around power pitchers who are in a couple of cases struggling for their identity," said Gammons. "I would be shocked now if Varitek doesn’t catch [Josh] Beckett all the time now. Clearly, they’ve made the decision that he’s going to catch [Daisuke] Matsuzaka, whose earned run average is massively different with Varitek catching. But I don’t think they can afford to let Jason go out and try to catch 120, 130 games. ... This is an issue that in the next two weeks is going to be addressed, and I don’t know which direction it’s going."
Gammons said that there are few viable alternatives on the trade market.
"If there was somebody available right now, somebody a lot better than Pudge Rodriguez, who I think would have problems with this staff, but if there was somebody available who they thought was really good defensively, I think they would immediately jump and do something. I don’t see that catcher," said Gammons. “I’ve gone through lists everywhere trying to figure out who could possibly be available. I just don’t see anybody good. There are guys out there who are OK backups. But you also have the problem of, you’ve got Joe Mauer hurt, which means that Minnesota can’t afford to trade a catcher. Somebody mentioned to me Ryan Hanigan, the kid from Andover for the Reds, just about the best backup in baseball. Good player. But [Reds starter Ramon] Hernandez is 36, 37 years old. They’re not going to trade him. I just don’t know where [the Sox] go."
By Peter Abraham, Globe Staff
OAKLAND — Jarrod Saltalamacchia started seven of the first eight games this season. Today will mark the fifth time in the last nine games that Jason Varitek will start.
The Sox aren't giving up on him. But clearly they're edging away from him. His throwing has been erratic, he is hitting .194/.256/.222 and the pitchers have a 7.14 ERA when he is behind the plate. That is more their fault than his and we're looking at a small sample size. But when Varitek has a 2.40 ERA, it makes you wonder.
There are two things that can happen here:
• Saltalamacchia gets better and the Sox move forward with him.
• The Sox give up their organizational man-crush on him and get another catcher.
But who? At 39, Varitek may not be suited to catching every day. And he's hitting .063/167/.063. Luis Exposito and Mike McKenry are spitting the catching at Pawtucket. Neither one is hitting and McKenry is new to the organization.
The Portland catchers are Ryan Lavarnway and Tim Federowicz. Lavarnway is not advanced enough defensively. Federowicz is and he has been hitting well so far. But that would be asking a lot, to jump him to the majors.
What about a trade? The Sox have surplus in Mike Cameron and Marco Scutaro (or Jed Lowrie) on the major league roster. Lars Anderson and Josh Reddick are in AAA, blocked from advancing. There are also some prospects (Oscar Tejeda, for instance) who could sweeten a deal.
One alternative would be luring Bengie Molina out of retirement. But he's not going to sign unless there's a clearly defined role and playing time.
Most teams do not entertain trades until after the draft. But as the Sox struggle to get to .500, their catching is a concern. If it doesn't improve, something has to give.
Portland Sea Dogs | Catcher
Scouting Report: Well-built catcher's frame with a strong core. Line drive hitter with decent power potential. Makes good contact, mediocre plate discipline. Good pitch recognition skills. Behind the plate, Federowicz presently is above-average defensively, and has the tools to develop into a very good major league defensive catcher. Extremely strong and accurate arm with a quick release. Outstanding at throwing runners out. Quick instincts. Calls a good game and handles the pitching staff well. Working on refining his blocking skills. Average speed (good speed for a catcher).
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