The Red Sox lineup’s gain is apparently Cleveland bobblehead collectors’ loss.
Shortly before the 4 p.m. trading deadline this afternoon, the Red Sox acquired switch-hitting catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez from the Cleveland Indians for a trio of pitchers — righthander Justin Masterson and a pair of Single A prospects, lefthander Nick Hagadone and righty Bryan Price.
“We think Victor Martinez is a great fit for our club and provides a significant offensive boost and does it with some versatility that compliments our roster well,” Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said during a conference call shortly before 6 p.m.
The Red Sox also swapped first basemen with the Atlanta Braves, sending Adam LaRoche — who was acquired nine days ago from the Pirates — to the organization he began his career with in exchange for smooth-fielding Casey Kotchman. Kotchman, 26, is a .272 career hitter with limited power. He has six home runs and 41 RBIs this season.
But the major news of the day was the acquisition of Martinez, 30, a lifetime .297 hitter in six-plus major league seasons. He should provide versatility — the three-time All-Star has appeared in 52 games as a catcher and 47 games at first base this season — and steady production to a Red Sox lineup that has slumped of late. Five starters are batting under .250.
“As we contemplated his acquisition, we talked with [manager Terry Francona] about possible fits and we all agreed what seems to make sense is a similar role as he had in Cleveland,” Epstein said.
“He has the ability to catch, but not to do so everyday, just that wears his legs down. [We want him to] spend enough time at first base and DH, stay fresh, and that works for our club because Jason Varitek is, has been, and will continue to be a very important part of our club and [working with] the pitching staff.”
Varitek told NESN before tonight’s game with the Orioles that he is not concerned with how Martinez’s arrival may affect his playing time.
“I don’t really know. We’ll see as time dictates . . . Either way I think that he’s going to come help our ballclub,” Varitek said.
Martinez, who makes $6.2 million this season with a club option for $7.5 million in 2010, is not expected to join the Red Sox until tomorrow. Coincidentally, he departs Cleveland a day before the Indians were to hold Victor Martinez Bobblehead Night at Progressive Field.
Martinez, who will wear No. 41 with the Sox, is batting .284 with 15 home runs and 67 RBIs this season, though he has been slumping lately, batting .240 in June and .175 in July. The switch-hitter’s best season came in 2007, when he batted .301 with 23 homers and 114 RBIs, good for seventh in the American League MVP race.
“What we’re getting in Victor is a middle of the order, switch-hitting batter, who can catch, play first, DH,” Francona said. “It’s a very valuable piece. There are a lot of things to like about Victor. . . . [He] can do a lot to hopefully be able to attack a lot of the better pitching in the league.”
Upon learning of the deal, Martinez admitted it was difficult to leave the only organization he had played for since entering professional baseball in 1996.
“It’s tough,” Martinez told The Associated Press. “This is my house. This is my home.”
According to the report, Martinez fought back tears as he sat in front of his locker, hugging son Victor Jr. Earlier in the day, the young boy asked his dad, “Are we still an Indian?”
But he later added that Red Sox fans unfamiliar with him will soon find out what he’s all about.
“Everybody knows I play to win,” said Martinez. I love this game and I’ll go there and do the same thing. As soon as I cross the line, I’m all about winning.”
The Red Sox, who lead the American League wild-card race but trail the Yankees by 2 1/2 games in the AL East, haven’t done a lot of winning by their usual standards lately — they are just 4-8 since the All-Star break. They were clearly looking to acquire a big bat in the hours before the non-waiver deadline, and Martinez may not have been their first choice.
Multiple reports indicated they were talking to the Padres about young and cost-effective All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, but the price was said to be prohibitive, with the Padres requesting a package including four or five of the Red Sox’ best prospects.
Epstein said the team had been excited about some trade talks earlier in the week, but, while things got close, they didn’t come to fruition. He hinted there were some deals that would have sent away “five or six prospects.” Epstein said the team was “very aggressive with the use of our own prospects” and that potential deals could be revisited in the offseason.
Reports also suggested the Sox aimed for a blockbuster deal for Blue Jays ace Roy Halladay, but it fell apart when Boston refused to part with their most prized arms, starter Clay Buchholz and reliever Daniel Bard.
“We were involved with some talk that could have led to some pretty good starting pitchers coming available, but it didn’t turn out that way,” Epstein said. “I don’t think you’ll see much impactful starting pitching available in August, but we like our pitching staff. . . . We have to do a better job than we’ve done lately.”
The Indians also apparently coveted Buchholz — the Sox reportedly turned down a one-for-one offer of Martinez for the 24-year-old righthander earlier this week — but Epstein managed to acquire a quality hitter without parting with the organization’s finest prospects.
The Indians did acquire a trio of intriguing arms in return, though they may not have rated among the Sox’ premier prospects.
The only one with big league experience is Masterson, 24. He is 3-3 with a 4.50 ERA in 31 games this season. He features a hard sinker but has been plagued with troubles against lefthanded hitters, and it’s uncertain whether his future is as a starter or a reliever.
The 6-foot-6-inch righthander with the Dennis Eckersley delivery owns a 9-8 career record and 3.76 ERA in 67 games with the Red Sox after debuting last year. He was outstanding in the 2008 postseason, setting a club rookie record with nine appearances in 2008, going 1-0 with a 1.86 ERA.
In the Red Sox clubhouse after he received word of the trade, Masterson said he was left with a “bittersweet” feeling.
“It’s the first time it’s happened in my career,” he said. “It could be the first of many. I mean, you never know, so you’re just trying to go through it and try to make the best of it.
“It will be nice when we get to Cleveland, but it’s unfortunate to have to leave a great organization like the Red Sox, but I’ve heard nothing but good things about Cleveland, so I’ll be excited to get up there.”
Hagadone, 23, was taken by the Red Sox with their first pick (55th overall) in the 2007 MLB Draft. The 6-foot-5-inch lefty was 0-2 with a 2.52 ERA, 32 strikeouts and 14 walks in 10 starts for Single A Greenville this year after missing a year following Tommy John surgery. The University of Washington product owns a 1-4 record and 1.82 ERA in 23 career starts in Boston’s system.
Price, 22, has combined to go 4-8 with a 4.67 ERA, 97 strikeouts and 31 walks in 19 starts with Single A Greenville and Single A Salem this season. Boston’s second selection (45th overall) in the 2008 MLB Draft made his professional debut last season and is 5-11 with a 4.42 ERA in 31 career minor league games.
This marked the second straight year the Red Sox made a significant trade the July 31 trade deadline. Last season, they dealt slugger Manny Ramirez to the Dodgers in a three-way swap that brought Jason Bay from Pittsburgh.
In 2004, the Red Sox also made a last-minute deal, trading away shortstop Nomar Garciaparra and acquiring Orlando Cabrera in a three-way deal. It turned out to be a pivotal move as the Red Sox went on to win the World Series for the first time in 86 years.
Epstein also made a major move at the deadline in ’07, acquiring reliever Eric Gagne from the Rangers for three prospects. Gagne was ineffective with the Red Sox, but the club went on to win their second championship in four seasons.
A popular player since first debuting with the Indians in 2002, Martinez has reached base safely in 81 of 99 games this season and ranks 16th in the league with 51 walks. He is fourth among AL switch hitters with a .368 on-base percentage and combined to bat .350 in the months of April and May, fourth in the league during that time.
Martinez, who is regarded as an excellent teammate and strong clubhouse presence, is an adequate defensive catcher. He has not made an error in 299 total chances behind the plate this year. Martinez has a .992 fielding percentage at first base. He has thrown out 21.4 percent of attempted base stealers in his career and ranks seventh in the AL with a 4.24 catcher ERA since 2005.
Originally signed by the Indians as a non-drafted free agent in 1996, he has 103 home runs and 518 RBI in 821 games with Cleveland. He leads the majors with 153 doubles and 406 RBI as a catcher since the start of the 2004 campaign and ranks among that group in batting average (3d, .296), on-base percentage (4th, .369), slugging (4th, .466) homers (tied-4th, 82), runs (5th, 324) and walks (5th, 269).
He is a career .303 hitter off righthanders with a .284 clip against lefties. He went 14 for 44 (.318) with two home runs and seven RBI in his only playoff experience for Cleveland in 2007, when the Indians were eliminated by the Red Sox in the American League Championship Series.
Regarding the Red Sox’ other move, Kotchman said he was rolling with the punches since being trading is not a new experience. Almost exactly a year ago, he was sent by the Angels to the Braves as part of a package for slugger Mark Teixeira.
“You’ve been traded already so you’re a little more used to it,” Kotchman told The Associated Press. “I’m a little surprised but not overwhelmingly surprised.”
Kotchman is hitting .282 and hasn’t committed an error in his two seasons with the Braves.
LaRoche is batting .248 with 13 homers and 43 RBIs for Pittsburgh and Boston, for whom he played six games, hitting one home run.
Chris Forsberg of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Material from the Associated Press was also used.