There’s going to come a time very soon — either in the wake of defeat or following the jubilation of a World Series parade — when the Red Sox will need to determine which of their free agents they’d like to bring back for another go-around in 2014.
Expect Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s name to be near the top of the list.
Saltalamacchia has been tremendous this season, and he is showing no signs of slowing down. While the second half has posed problems for Saltalamacchia in the past, he has carried his success into August and September this season, which serves as further proof that the 28-year-old has truly evolved into one of the game’s best catchers. Salty will likely be paid as such when he hits the open market this offseason.
Saltalamacchia racked up four hits and drove in three runs as part of the Red Sox’ 15-5 blowout victory over the Rockies on Wednesday. He also homered in the ninth inning of Tuesday’s 8-3 defeat in Colorado. His average is up to .272, his on-base percentage has climbed to .338 and his OPS sits at .803. All of those numbers are much higher than his 162-game averages — .244, .308, .735 — and represent a major increase over his 2012 figures. Saltaltamacchia, who jacked a career-high 25 home runs in 2012, finished that year with a .222 average, .288 on-base percentage and .742 OPS.
Saltalamacchia recently pointed to his improved plate discipline and his everyday status as Boston’s catcher — he served as a designated hitter toward the end of 2012 — as reasons for his offensive improvement. It appears that he’s using all fields much more frequently, and his swing looks like it’s become more compact.
The result of Saltalamacchia’s new offensive approach has been consistency, which is something that was previously elusive for the former first-round pick. Saltalamacchia hit .200 with a .658 OPS in the second half of 2012 after hitting .239 with an .807 OPS in the first half. In 2011, he hit .251 with a .320 on-base percentage and .757 OPS before the All-Star break, and then posted .217/.251/.714 totals the rest of the way. This year, however, has been much different, as Saltalamacchia came away from Wednesday’s game in Colorado with nearly identical numbers for the first and second halves of this season.
Saltalamacchia’s evolution involves much more than offensive advancement, though. It’s clear that the Red Sox’ pitching staff has a ton of trust in the veteran backstop, and he has emerged as one of Boston’s clubhouse leaders. There have been numerous times throughout this season when the first response offered up by the night’s starting pitcher included tip of the cap to Salty’s game-calling ability.
The Red Sox’ focus right now is on bringing a World Series title back to Boston, and Saltalamacchia figures to be a big part of that effort. But when the quest ends — and the champagne-soaked locker room dries, perhaps — the Red Sox will need to figure out how to approach Saltalamacchia’s free agency. It’d be surprising if the Red Sox didn’t make a strong effort to re-sign Salty, even if the price tag continues to rise with each step forward.