By John Tomase/Boston Herald
It was the right decision last winter, it remains the right decision now, and it most definitely will be the right decision in 2014. As much as many fans hate to hear it, the Red Sox [team stats] did the right thing by letting Victor Martinez walk.
Martinez returned to Fenway Park [www.bostonherald.com/maps/?data=fenwayPark">map] last night for the first time since signing a four-year, $50 million contract with the Detroit Tigers to open the offseason. He arrived with exactly the kind of numbers for the Tigers as he delivered in his year and a half with the Sox, batting .317 with four home runs and 23 RBI.
Red Sox catchers Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek [stats], meanwhile, were at .203 with one homer and 14 RBI combined.
This juxtaposition alone is proof to many that the Sox screwed up.
Doesn’t matter. Whatever short-term bump the Red Sox could have received with Martinez in the lineup would have been completely mitigated by the long-term drag his presence would have taken on the lineup and payroll.
Which is not to say that Martinez wished to leave. He’d have re-signed here in a heartbeat.
“Definitely,” Martinez said. “Like I say, my wife, my kids, all my family and myself, we did everything we could to come back. That’s the sad part of the game. It is what it is. That’s the business part. We’ve got to move on.”
The Red Sox made that decision for him, and it’s wise that the ballclub did.
For one thing, Martinez isn’t even a catcher anymore, at least as far as the Tigers are concerned. He has caught eight games and served as the designated hitter for 20, including last night’s contest.
The Red Sox were never in love with his abilities behind the plate — it often appeared that former pitching coach John Farrell was calling pitches from the dugout — and it’s fair to wonder how quickly his skills might have eroded if he were catching full time.
But more importantly, he’s exactly the kind of player you don’t sign to a long-term deal, no matter how productive or beloved he was here. Thanking him for his service was the www.bostonherald.com/search/?searchSite=true&topic=Bill+Belichick&mode=score&sorting=pubdate">Bill Belichick move, and that’s meant as a compliment. The Patriots [team stats] coach has exhibited a remarkable ability to identify players on the wrong sides of their primes, remove sentimentality from the equation, and bloodlessly say goodbye. Think Lawyer Milloy, Antowain Smith and Mike Vrabel, to name three.
The Belichick model operates on the belief that it’s better to watch a veteran deliver one good year elsewhere than risk assuming his entire decline.
The Red Sox followed this approach to a T with Martinez. Why overpay for what you’ve already seen and probably aren’t going to get again? The 32-year-old is an excellent offensive player, particularly as a switch hitter.
But is he a better fit for the Sox than Adrian Gonzalez or Carl Crawford, the players the Red Sox signed in part because of the financial flexibility that not signing Martinez afforded them?
Not a chance, even if he did love it here.
“Oh man, I don’t have any word to describe it,” Martinez said. “By far, it’s been the best time in my career, just to come in here and play on this team and play in this city in front of these great fans.
“It’s definitely by far the best time I’ve had in my career.”
Red Sox fans enjoyed Martinez’ time here, too. He was an excellent teammate and leader, and the Red Sox [team stats] will miss his bat this season.
What they’ll also miss is his decline, which is exactly the point. Fans may not want to hear it now, but the Red Sox left the Victor Martinez market at just the right time.