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In these negotiations, who will be the Victor?

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  February 10, 2010 07:37 AM

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This year, the role of Jason Bay will be played by Victor Martinez, yet another midseason acquisition now entering the final year of his contract. By all indications, the Red Sox need him. And yet, there is simply no way to predict which way this will go.

Red Sox pitchers and catchers are due to officially report to Fort Myers, Fla., in 11 days, but let it be known that baseball season has begun. Already, there are members of the Sox working out at the team’s minor-league complex in Fort Myers. The Sox will formally commence workouts late next week and open their spring schedule on March 3 against Northeastern and Boston College, all in anticipation of the April 4 regular season opener against the New York Yankees at Fenway Park.

So what do you think, Sox followers? Will Victor be signed? Or won’t he?

Your guess is as good as anyone’s.

For what it is worth, according to one baseball source, there is no indication thus far that the Sox and Martinez have begun serious discussions on a contract extension beyond 2010. That may (or may not) mean anything. The offseason baseball calendar often follows a very deliberate path, teams negotiating with, in order, free agents, arbitration-eligible players and players with fewer than three years of experience. Veterans entering the final year of their contracts often are put off until spring training, allowing clubs to use Opening Day as some sort of deadline.

As was the case with Bay, Martinez falls into the last category. The big question now is whether the Sox will secure him to a long-term contract extension before Opening Day or whether they will send him the way of Bay amid speculation about his health, defense or both.

You think the Bay negotiations got messy at the end? Wait until the Martinez talks hit the propaganda stage. Late last season, like Bay, Martinez turned 31 years old. He is a very good offensive player who bats from both sides of the plate, hits for average and produces runs. Depending on what you believe, Martinez is either a catcher, first baseman or designated hitter, though the Sox already have endorsed him as their starter behind the plate for this year, which won’t help them at the bargaining table.

Or, depending on Martinez’ defensive performance, maybe it will.

Seriously, where do you begin with a guy like this? Without question, Martinez’ agent, Alan Nero, is likely to keep a close eye on the Joe Mauer negotiations for obvious reasons. Mauer will set the ceiling for all catchers in the game. Over the last five years, Martinez’ offensive output as a catcher is in the same ballpark as Mauer and New York Yankees backstop Jorge Posada. Mauer has two huge factors over both of those players – defense (two Gold Gloves) and age – and no one will argue against Mauer as currently being the best catcher in the game.

The question will be where Martinez fits in, assuming the Sox truly regard him as a solution behind the plate.

For what it’s worth, the Sox will have plenty of money to spend at the end of this season given the expiring contracts of, among others, David Ortiz, Mike Lowell, Josh Beckett, Julio Lugo, Jason Varitek, and perhaps Adrian Beltre, among others. The flexibility of Kevin Youkilis (third base?) and the potential departure of Ortiz could leave them with openings at both first base and DH, both positions Martinez can fill. Given the shortage of offensive talent in the Boston farm system – remember, owner John Henry said the next wave of talent won’t be coming until 2012 – the Sox will have an even greater need for a middle-of-the-order bat than they already do.

Of course, we thought the same thing when Bay came up for discussion. As it turned out, the Sox dug in their heels on protective language in the event Bay had any injuries to his knees, a stance that ultimately blew up the deal and led to the Sox acquiring, among others, Mike Cameron, Jeremy Hermida and Adrian Beltre for roughly $20 million, about $5 million more than they would have paid Bay this season under the terms of a four-year, $60 million contract. In case you’re wondering, the Sox could have had Bay, Beltre and John Lackey for about $4-$5 million more than they are projected to pay now.

By the way, Martinez missed much of the 2008 season with an elbow injury, something that is certain to come up in negotiations. On the one hand, the Sox have given Martinez the responsibility of catching this year. On the other, come contract time, they are sure to cite Martinez’ problems in throwing out base runners and his overall defensive shortcomings. Based on the contracts of Ortiz, Posada and Mauer, Martinez’ average annual value would seem to fall somewhere between $13 million and, say, $20 million annually, the latter being a projected salary for the incomparable Mauer.

In some ways, this is a big year for the Red Sox, who have seen television ratings and interest wane some over the last two years. They traded Manny Ramirez, then failed to re-sign the man they acquired for him (Bay). For every dyed-in-the-wool Sox loyalist now preaching the tenets of run prevention, pitching and defense, there is a Sox follower disenchanted by a lineup that once again looks suspect. The Sox have whiffed on big bats in each of the last two offseasons, opting for a safer, more balanced portfolio.

Last year, to their credit, the Sox responded to their offseason outcome by acquiring Martinez from the Cleveland Indians for package of prospects. Now he is up for a new deal, too. The Red Sox appear headed for a massive turnover at the end of this season – again, Lowell, Ortiz, Beckett and Varitek are all free agents – and they have long–term needs at an array of positions on the diamond.

And yet, based on history, there is simply no way to know whether the Red Sox will re-sign Victor Martinez to fill any of them.

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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