David Ross Signing Gives Red Sox Depth, Marks Decision Time for Futures of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Lavarnway

The Red Sox promised to go into the offseason spending, using their newly acquired payroll space to build a contender.

But most people thought that meant filling two holes in the outfield and a spot at first base, not to mention bolstering the pitching staff.

Snagging a third catcher? Well, that’s nice, but it’s hardly shock and awe.

The Red Sox’ reported deal with backup catcher David Ross, though, may be just the thing to get Boston’s free agent season started. With Ross in the fold, the Red Sox may be able to start tumbling dominoes to take care of the positions that really need help, whether it be through free agency or — more likely with the Ross signing — the trade market.

With three catchers on the roster, the Red Sox now have choices to make behind the plate.

Ryan Lavarnway has been groomed as the catcher of the future, but he wasn’t stellar in his 46 games in the big leagues last year, compiling just a .157 average on 24 hits. While Lavarnway was understandably tired from a long season in the minors and what was really his first full year of catching, the question of whether he’s the long-term solution at a position that is vital to the Red Sox’ success is one that needs to be answered soon. Lavarnway can have time for his offense to catch up, but he’ll need to show early this season that he can handle the pitching staff and defensive parts of the game to the point that he’s worth keeping around for a while.

That’s where Ross comes in. Although he’s been a backup for the Braves for the past four years, playing 227 games, what he provides to teams is worth far more than his .269 batting average, ability to snag runners and aptitude behind the plate. Ross is considered above average in knowing how to handle not only counts and situations but also pitching staffs, and he’ll be a huge upgrade to a team that needs its signal callers to be right on par with a regrouping pitching crew.

Furthermore, Ross is known as a great clubhouse guy, which speaks to the team’s effort to remake the guts and leadership of the team as well as its production and win-loss record. With Ross providing a presence that the whole team can look to, the pitchers can lean on and a young Lavarnway can learn from, the Red Sox may have just set up an excellent couple of years for figuring out what they want to do with their catching position.

The outlier in this, of course, would be Jarrod Saltalamacchia. A veteran in his own right who has done considerable work in getting the Red Sox’ staff and Lavarnway on course, Saltalamacchia now appears to be the odd man out. What can the Red Sox really do with three catchers?

The simple answer seems to be that Saltalamacchia, who is arbitration eligible, may be trade bait. (The same, however, could be said for Lavarnway, although indicators seem to point more toward him staying around due to his long-term grooming by the team.)

The Red Sox may be looking to trade Saltalamacchia, which would make a lot of sense in a year that doesn’t have much on the free agent market. A good catcher is hard to find, and Boston could spin Saltalamacchia in a package that could yield a pitcher or help bring in an elite outfielder.

But don’t count out Saltalamacchia just yet. While he had his struggles on offense last year, slumping to a .222 average and just eight home runs after the break (he had 25 all year), bringing in Ross, who is strong from the right-handed side of the batter’s box, could mean that Saltalamacchia and Ross could be tag-teaming when it comes to bringing along Lavarnway and providing a little extra offense. Saltalamacchia was horrid against lefties last year, batting just .170 with one home run, but he was comparably great against right-handers, hitting .230 with 24 of his home runs. While Saltalamacchia has said he doesn’t want to be working from the bench, he could back up a deep Boston lineup if the team chooses to keep all three catchers.

The final note to take out of the Ross deal is what it means for the Red Sox’ moves across the board. While the team has re-signed David Ortiz and expressed interest in keeping other players, like right fielder Cody Ross, everything else has been speculation. Moving on David Ross could be what gets the wheels going — although it could also mean closing the door on some decent pickups, such as first baseman/catcher combo Mike Napoli, who won’t get to use much of his experience at catcher if he is brought in.

The Red Sox are moving, though. No fireworks, no Josh Hamilton, no monster trades — but just enough that the dominoes could start falling soon.

Click here to see free agent hitters the Red Sox could pursue>>

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