Victor Martinez Turning Out to Be the Master of All Trades


September 3, 2009

Victor Martinez Turning Out to Be the Master of All Trades If anyone dared doubt Victor Martinez upon his move to Boston at the trading deadline on July 31, they've now had a month to figure out exactly where they can stick those doubts.

His numbers in the month of August, immediately after being shipped in from Cleveland: .306 average, .377 on-base, .500 slugging, five homers, six doubles. If not for that Joe Mauer guy that just keeps mashing in Minnesota, Martinez would be universally hailed as the best catcher in baseball.

In Boston, he's revitalized a lineup that was struggling on its way into the deadline. He can do it all — hit the longball and catch the knuckleball. He's even livened up the Sox' clubhouse and brought out the best in David Ortiz.

Most importantly, he's helped the team win. Since his arrival at the end of July, the Red Sox have only strengthened their lead in the AL wild card race, inching closer to another trip to October.

Since Martinez's stint in Boston has already proven to be an unequivocal success, it's time to start thinking about his future with the club. Martinez is just 30 years old, and he makes $6.2 million this season with a club option for $7.5 million in 2010.

The Red Sox will pick up that option. That much is a no-brainer. Having Martinez in the heart of their lineup improves the team immensely now, and it will again next season. Martinez is a power-hitting catcher, a luxury in this age, and he's a luxury that comes relatively cheaply.

The real question is whether the Sox will sit down with the catcher's agent, Alan Nero, and talk about making him a part of their plans for years down the road. It's certainly an idea worth exploring.

And if they do, it would raise questions about what the future holds for Jason Varitek.

The Red Sox are in a unique position in baseball history — they're blessed with two switch-hitting All-Star catchers. No one else has ever been able to boast that. But with Varitek, 37, hitting .219 this season and on the sharp decline, the Sox need to reassess their future. Martinez appears to be the guy they can rely upon for years down the road — but he's not the one wearing the "C" on his chest, and that's going to pose a problem.

Varitek has been a leader in the Sox' clubhouse for more than a decade. He has the experience and the intellect to be a valuable asset for the team's pitching staff, and he's proven as much throughout his time in Boston. But all those intangibles pale in comparison to the numbers Martinez has put up in the three-hole in Terry Francona's lineup.

Something's got to give.

Varitek has multiple options in his contract — a $5 million club option for the Red Sox to bring him back, or a $3 million player option — that could bring him back to Boston in 2010. One way or another, 'Tek will probably end up in a Sox uniform next season, as it's highly unlikely that the two sides will mutually decide to part ways. But when Varitek returns, the odds are slim that it will be as a regular catcher.

It won't be good for the captain's ego, but Varitek's best hope for a promising future in Boston is in a lesser role. At 38 next season, he'd make a good backup catcher — he could fill in for Martinez in times of injury or fatigue, and maybe even serve as a personal catcher to Josh Beckett. Anything to get him some work.

Varitek will see a lesser role on the Red Sox as his skills deteriorate with age. But the team's captain shouldn't be forced out entirely, and exactly how his future shakes out will be one of the Sox' most interesting storylines for next season and beyond.

The Red Sox have two All-Stars on their depth chart behind the plate. With any luck, they'll find out that one clubhouse is big enough for the both of them.

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