Catching was going to be in short supply, which makes Carlos Ruiz and Brian McCann’s early deals not at all that surprising.
You wouldn’t notice it with the way the Boston Red Sox are treating its switch-hitting free agent. In three full seasons with Boston, Saltalamacchia has hit 16, 25 and 14 home runs, supplying power and amicable defense at a crucial position.
If GM Ben Cherington is cognizant about successful Red Sox teams having center field-caliber defense is right, then he must know that backstops who hit can more than make up for their inability to field.
It’s weird to see Carlos Ruiz making more money than Russell Martin, and if it weren’t for his power potential and better on base rates, McCann making double that reads comical.
But it is what it is.
Salty will get a boost from Ruiz and McCann signing premium deals.
First, there’s a need for it.
He may be the third starting catcher off the board, but he could potentially be second best. He’s also younger than McCann, and their defense is negligible. Fundamentally Salty’s flawed as an everyday catcher, but he might be the closest thing the Red Sox have to Jason Varitek.
Maybe he’ll develop that game-calling experience and start throwing more accurately as time goes by.
At 28, there is some upside, though it would be wise to expect nothing more than his three-season offensive peak in Boston, one that was punctured somewhat by an a raw, all-or-nothing power approach at least in his first two seasons.
Given his age, he could conceivably play the position for the next four seasons, and that’s a conservative estimate.
You can blame BABIP all you want for his aberrant batting average and plus .330 OBP, but he may actually be showing signs of developing as a hitter.
We’ve seen this trend before, Ruiz being the most recent example — sometimes catchers take longer to fulfill their hitting potential, if at all, because of the rigors of the position.
Salty’s line drive rate rose to 28 percent, eating away at his fly ball rate. He’s staying on top of the ball, and is displaying better pitch recognition. For the third straight year he’s increased his walk rate to the point where he’s now league average. So he strikes out too much, big deal.
Cherington has drawn the line at two years, perhaps a little too conservative. Four-win catchers don’t just fall from trees.
But there’s such a pressing need at the position that it’s likely Salty will pull a four-year $52 million deal. The Minnesota Twins need a long term catcher after moving Joe Mauer to first base full-time. The Toronto Blue Jays miss John Buck. The Chicago White Sox can’t live on Phegly alone.
The Red Sox may have longer term options coming from its farm system, with Christian Vasquez and Blake Swihart giving them strength in numbers.
And there are shorter term options. A.J. Pierzynski will probably be the most reliable, with Dioner Navarro exhibiting a massive drop-off right after.
There are bridges they could build until one of the two prospects are ready for The Show. If at all.
The Rangers had the same pool of catchers, adding Salty with Taylor Teagarden and Max Ramirez, none of whom solved long term needs at the position.
Saltalamacchia has played in 100 games or more for the past three seasons, and while there were rough patches, he’s proven to be a capable everyday backstop.
It’s hard to tell that from a prospect. Anything past Saltalamacchia offers Boston less equipped in case their stud catchers falter. Excess is the better part of valor with pitching. And so it goes with catchers who can hit.