That Victor Martinez agreed to a four-year, $50 million deal with the Detroit Tigers did not catch the Red Sox by surprise. For several days, the Tigers had pushed Martinez to make a quick decision and had a deal in place Monday night.
A week ago, during a break at the GM Meetings in Orlando, Theo Epstein said he wanted Martinez to return but was comfortable with the idea of Jarrod Saltalamacchia being the catcher. He probably knew what was on the horizon.
The Red Sox constructed two offers for Martinez: three years and $36 million or four years and $42 million. Historically, catchers decline rapidly in their mid 30s and Martinez will turn 32 in December. The Sox were willing to gamble on Martinez staying healthy and productive — but only to a point.
In 2014, Martinez will be 35. If he can catch for four years, Detroit will have made a good deal. If not, the Tigers could come to regret it.
Martinez hit .302 with a .351 on-base percentage and a .493 slugging percentage for the Red Sox last season. As a catcher, those are tremendous statistics. But as a first baseman or designated hitter, Martinez would not be nearly as valuable at $12.5 million a year.
The Sox were not willing to gamble quite as heavily as Detroit on how good Martinez will be in 2013 and 2014.
Barring a trade, the Red Sox will almost certainly look to Saltalamacchia to catch the majority of their games in 2011. The 25-year-old, who was acquired from Texas, was once considered a top prospect before being derailed by injuries.
“I think we’re comfortable with him in a role anywhere from backup to job share to everyday guy depending on how the rest of the club shakes out,” Epstein said. “We like him. … We took the opportunity to buy low after he had been through a rough period and he really impressed the staff, who had no vested interest in him.
“He really opened some eyes from the manager to [catching instructor] Gary Tuck, to the pitching coach with the way he handled pitchers, the way he threw, the way he conducted himself in the clubhouse. He was impressive to everybody.”
Look for the Red Sox to bring back Jason Varitek (or another veteran) as a backup and mentor for Saltalamacchia.
“We in the organization love what this kid could turn out to be,” manager Terry Francona said today, “If this is a risk we assume, we like this kid.”
A bigger question is how the Red Sox will replace the offense Martinez provided. There is now more pressure for the team to retain third baseman Adrian Beltre or to upgrade the outfield with either Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth. Both are free agents.
Keeping Beltre and bringing in Crawford or Werth would give the Red Sox a powerful offense. The Red Sox have approximately $40 million to spend based on last season’s payroll, which opens up many possibilities.
“The winter has to play itself out and it’s just beginning,” Francona said. “Theo and those guys will find a way to put a team together that we feel good about. … When we get to Fort Myers, we’ll be exciting.”
For more on Martinez, see the earlier reports on Extra Bases.