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Catcher Martinez hasn’t received call from team

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / July 6, 2010

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It’s a familiar scene before Red Sox games. Victor Martinez shagging flies in the outfield, and watching his son, Victor Jose Martinez, and Little Papi (D’Angelo Ortiz), chasing each other around.

In his short time with the Sox, Martinez has felt at home, and the catcher has earned tremendous respect from his teammates for the professionalism with which he handles his position.

As the All-Star Game approaches, there have been no contract talks between the Sox and Martinez, who can become a free agent this offseason after the Sox picked up the $7.1 million option on his contract last offseason. The Sox decided against discussing a long-term deal last winter, wanting to see how things played out with Martinez as the No. 1 catcher.

Obviously the Red Sox understand his value as a switch-hitting No. 3 batter; he may just be the best pure hitter on the team. It appears what the brass has struggled with is defining his future role.

Now 31, will Martinez be able to catch as he gets older, or will there be more wear and tear of the type that has beset him this season? Martinez has had a sore toe and currently has a broken left thumb, which has put him on the disabled list.

Earlier this season, it was easier to envision Martinez as the future designated hitter and backup catcher, but that was when David Ortiz was struggling. Now that Ortiz is hitting again, the Sox will have three rather large offseason decisions.

1) Do they pick up a $12 million option on Ortiz’s contract, or do they try to negotiate that down so he’s in line with the Hideki Matsui and Vlad Guerrero salaries, which are half that? 2) If Ortiz balks, do the Sox then sign Martinez long tm as a DH/1B/C? 3) What do they do with Adrian Beltre, who can also be a free agent. If Beltre goes elsewhere, that might open the door for Kevin Youkilis to go back to third and for Martinez to become the primary first baseman.

None of those decisions will be easy, and one can understand why Martinez’s situation hasn’t quite been settled yet.

If the Sox re-sign Martinez they will do it based on his offense — his bat is one of the best in the game. The Sox believe their No. 1 catcher must hit.

Still, one would think by now that there would have been some long-term plan regarding Martinez. After all, the team gave three pitching prospects to the Indians last July 31 — Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone, and Bryan Price — to obtain the popular Martinez, who Sunday was named a reserve on the American League All-Star team.

“I think it’s a great honor,’’ said Martinez, who is hitting .289 with 9 homers and 38 RBIs. “Especially the way I was selected by the players. It makes you feel proud and it makes you work even harder that the other players recognize what you do.

“It’s tough not being able to play, but I’m going. I’ll take my kids and my family. It’s an opportunity that doesn’t come every day. It’s just disappointing that I can’t be playing right now, period. It’s frustrating not to be able to help my team win every night.’’

Martinez’s first month at catcher this season wasn’t pretty, with teams stealing at will. The numbers, which were as bad as 23 out of 24 runners successful against him, have improved but still aren’t great.

The Sox were impressed with how much time Martinez devoted to working with catching coach Gary Tuck to improve his release time. And while there are throwing issues which always will be there, the Sox have been pleased with the way Martinez receives the ball and how he calls a game.

Are there better defensive catchers? Sure. The Sox recently turned down a chance to add Arizona backstop Chris Snyder, and they also passed on veteran Bengie Molina, believing that when Martinez comes back, he will go right back behind the plate.

And that’s where Martinez prefers to be. When he thinks of himself, he thinks ‘catcher’.

And he would love to catch in Boston for as long as possible.

“I let them know very early in the season I’d like to play here and come back here, but the future is in their hands,’’ he said. “I don’t think I could have spoken any clearer than I did early in the season. I put everything on the table and right now I have no idea what’s going to happen, but it’s not something I think about right now.

“I just want to be a part of this winning team, whether it’s catching, DH, first base, all of them, it doesn’t matter to me. I just want to be part of a team that has a chance to win a World Series. Whatever they need, I’m more than willing to do it and keep playing hard.’’

Martinez doesn’t know whether the thumb will nag him all season.

“I can’t say right now,’’ he said. “I’m trying not to worry about it day by day. I just wait to see how it feels each day. I do my treatment.’’

He was asked whether he believes it would be easier to transition to first or DH.

“You know what, I’ve never thought about getting hurt in the hand or the finger in all the years I’ve caught,’’ he said. “I just go back there and catch. I love to catch. I love the position and I don’t think of it as a place where I might get hurt. To me, catching is fun, not a place where I might get hurt, and I’ve never approached it that way. You can get hurt doing a lot of things.’’

What was unfortunate was that Martinez was heating up at the plate after a slow start.

“I was swinging the bat really well before I got hurt, but I guess things happen for a reason,’’ he said. “There’s nothing I can really do right now except get healthy and get back. I didn’t want this, and it’s frustrating to go through, but I think I can really help when I get back and I’m swinging the bat like I can and catching and helping the pitching staff.

“That’s why I play the game. I want to win. I feel like I can help a team win and that’s what I’m in this for.’’

While Martinez wouldn’t be out there long if he hit free agency, all players want to know where they’re going to be. The question is how high Martinez’s salary demands will get.

Will the Sox be willing to make him the second-highest paid catcher behind Joe Mauer? That’s what they face. And it won’t be easy for the Red Sox to do it, or to walk away.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.

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