BOSTON — As the best free-agent catcher available, Jarrod Saltalamacchia can pretty much write his own ticket, right?
Even as the list of available backstops dwindles, the Red Sox are remaining patient, an approach that general manager Ben Cherington said is made possible by the organization’s depth at the catching position.
“We kind of thought that might be a position that moved quicker just because there seemed to be sort of a set of teams and a set of somewhat comparable, somewhat equal players and the musical chairs would start,” Cherington said Monday at the Wang Theater in Boston before a screening of MLB Productions’ World Series Film. “I guess that leaves us still talking. We have interest in a small handful of free agents. We’ve also talked to teams about trades. And we also think we’re in a pretty strong position long-term with the young catching we have in the organization and so we have, we’re in a position to be a little choosy, a little selective. If we could do something there, we’d love to. So we’ll see what happens.”
Saltalamacchia is coming off a career year in which he improved both offensively and defensively. His home run total dropped from 25 in 2012 to 14 in 2013, but his average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage all rose, and his 40 doubles set a new single-season record for a Red Sox catcher. Salty finished the season with a .273/.338/.466 line.
The playoffs were far less kind to Saltalamacchia, who was eventually replaced by David Ross for the final three games of the World Series. He batted just .188 (6-for-32) with 19 strikeouts and made a couple of costly defensive miscues. But given the overall strides that Saltalamacchia made in 2013, there figures to be a market for the 28-year-old, even if it’s still developing.
“[Saltalamacchia is] certainly one of the guys we’ve talked to, continue to have an open door with, spoken to him pretty consistently — or spoken to his representative pretty consistently — since the season ended,” Cherington said Monday. “Hopefully that continues. He’s doing the same thing we are, just trying to see what’s out there for him, too.”
Brian McCann was considered the best catcher available on the open market this offseason, but the Yankees inked the seven-time All-Star to a five-year, $85 million contract over the weekend. Carlos Ruiz, who re-signed with the Phillies for three years and $26 million, is also off the board, as are Jose Molina (Rays), Brayan Pena (Reds) and Geovanny Soto (Rangers). Salty figures to be the cream of the remaining crop, but the Red Sox don’t appear willing to rush into a contract that doesn’t fit their overall philosophy.
“One of the lessons I learned a long time ago was that you can’t fall in love with your veterans. You can’t do that,” Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino said Monday. “That’s not the way to run the railroad. We are not going to be a stand-pat team. That’s just not the way we run the railroad here. That’s probably a losing proposition every year. Every year has to have its own personality. Every year will have a different personality, composition as well as personality.”
Ryan Lavarnway is one candidate to be the Red Sox’ starting catcher in 2014 if the club doesn’t bring in an external option. That would require a leap of faith given his minimal big league experience, though, and Saltalamacchia could eventually be viewed as too important. Any reluctance on Boston’s part to give Saltalamacchia anything beyond a two-year deal stems from the presence of catching prospects Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, who are both climbing the ranks within the minor league system.
Ross, who was also in attendance for Monday’s event at the Wang Theater, is set to return as the Red Sox’ backup catcher in 2014. The 36-year-old formed a solid duo with Saltalamacchia this past season but is trying to stick to the sidelines when it comes to the Red Sox’ offseason decision-making.
“I’m trying to follow actually just through you guys and stay out of it and just what’s going on,” Ross told reporters Monday. “I know it is a big part, who my partner’s going to be. Obviously, Salty and I have a great relationship, so that’s built up. Whoever it is, that’s Ben’s decision. I would hate to ever influence one way or the other and have something backfire. [If I] say a guy’s really good that he asks me about and then they stink, then that’s a little bit on me. That’s what I told [Cherington] at the end of the season. I said, ‘I’m glad I just have to worry about the easy stuff and not anything in the offseason.’”
The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo reported that Saltalamacchia is on the Twins’ radar as Minnesota looks for a replacement for Joe Mauer, who is shifting to first base on a full-time basis in 2014. Minnesota might not be Boston’s only competition, though, especially if fellow free agents keep getting snatched up as we approach the new year.
For now, Salty remains in limbo — seemingly with a ton of leverage, yet without a desperate former team.