Red Sox Shouldn’t Hurry to Sign Victor Martinez to Extension

Red Sox Shouldn't Hurry to Sign Victor Martinez to Extension By all outward appearances, the interest appears mutual. The Red Sox seem to like Victor Martinez, and Martinez seems to like the Red Sox.

But it always looks that way, and you don't always see these stories reach their happy endings. The Red Sox have yet to come even close to working out a contract extension for Martinez, whose deal expires at the end of this season, and they might be running out of time.

The latest rumbling on Martinez is that the Red Sox' 31-year-old catcher has set a deadline for working out an extension: Either they figure it out now, before the regular season gets under way, or they don't figure it out at all. If the Red Sox can't get a deal done in spring training, they risk letting him fall to the open market. Hello, Yankees.

As is often the case with these threats from free-agents-to-be, it's hard for the Red Sox to know whether Martinez should be taken seriously. After all, if the interest is mutual, who's to say the two sides can't set their self-imposed deadlines aside and work out a deal this summer?

The Red Sox have reason to be cautious with Martinez going forward. He's an exceptional talent offensively, especially for a catcher, and that's the kind of value that elite teams shell out good money to keep. After a 100-RBI season in 2009 split between Cleveland and Boston, Martinez looks to be one of the best offensive catchers in the game going forward.

Martinez's camp is making it clear that his services can't be kept cheaply. His agent, Alan Nero, knows full well what a value he has in his client.

"It's nice that Victor says he wants to stay with the Red Sox,'' Nero told reporter and NESN insider Gordon Edes this week, "but in reality it doesn't really change anything. The reality is that the Red Sox are going to have to want him. They're going to have to be willing to pay for value to get value.''

No argument here. The Red Sox will have to show Martinez the money if they want to keep him around. But exactly how much money remains to be seen — it depends in a big way on how he pans out as the Red Sox' catcher of the future.

Martinez will begin 2010 as the Red Sox' Opening Day catcher. His time behind the plate will be an interesting experiment — he's got to prove that he's worthy of the Red Sox' catching gig by proving he can get it done defensively.

Last season, Martinez struggled mightily to catch opposing base stealers. He gunned down 15 percent with the Indians before the trading deadline last summer, 11 percent after arriving in Boston, and 14 percent overall. The Tribe started to move him to first base, where his defensive inadequacy could be well hidden; the Red Sox did a little of the same.

If he can't cut it as a catcher, his value to the Red Sox changes dramatically as he moves to first base. Any team would much rather get a .300 average and 20 homers from their catcher than their first baseman — from a backstop, those numbers are well above average, but from a corner infielder, they're fairly typical.

This concern only grows greater in Boston. These are the same Red Sox shelling out the big bucks for Mike Lowell, Adrian Beltre and Kevin Youkilis — they've got no shortage of slugging corner infielders already, and they're not about to break the bank for a superfluous fourth one.

The Red Sox need to figure out where they stand with Martinez. And whether his agency likes it or not, a couple weeks' worth of spring training workouts might not be enough to figure things out. If Martinez is worth the big bucks, he's got all season to prove it.

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