Signing Victor Martinez Remains No. 1 Offseason Priority for Red Sox

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Signing Victor Martinez Remains No. 1 Offseason Priority for Red Sox Victor Martinez?s career with the Red Sox has been a bit of a tease.

His 2009 season saw him rake for two months after the trade with Cleveland on July 31, but it was just two months. The Sox had a quick playoff exit so there was no extending that brief period, during which he hit .336.

This past year Martinez battled a major slump early and injuries in the middle portion of the schedule before finally getting hot near the end when the club was clinging to life, or in the eyes of some already dead. He had a wonderful season but it came in fits and starts.

We have yet to see the value of Martinez over the course of a full season without interruption. The question remains, if the organization is unable to re-sign Martinez to a long-term contract this offseason and he walks for what is sure to be a pricey deal, will we always wonder what if?

What if the Victor Martinez we have flirted with for 1 1/2 years was able to stick around for an extended period of time, serve as one of the best No. 3 hitters in the league, play catch for a rotation that adores him and provide the club incredible flexibility, batting from both sides of the plate and existing as a candidate to fill three roles throughout the course of the contract (catcher, first base, designated hitter)?

The organization should not waver when answering that question. While there is a hefty list of offseason chores (Adrian Beltre, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, the bullpen, fifth starter?), taking care of Martinez should be priority No. 1.

Although Martinez scoffed at the club?s initial two-year, $20 million offer, there still exists the possibility that a deal gets done.

?When we got him in a trade we knew we were getting a first-class person and someone who prioritized winning, and a natural hitter,? general manager Theo Epstein said. ?But I don?t think we understood the impact he would have here. He?s done a great job and we would love to see the relationship continue.?

The critics of such a move will point to the fact that Martinez has never had a reputation as a defensive stalwart and his issues throwing out runners were a major component in the club?s slow start. They will point to his age (he?ll be 32 in December) and the length and price of a contract (four or five years at an annual salary perhaps comparable to Jorge Posada?s $13.1 million) as a major risk.

While Martinez insists he is a catcher who can perform at a high level at that position into his late 30s, some will have their doubts.

That argument has its merits. Just look at the way Posada has declined from an average defensive catcher to one who is easy pickings for base runners. That said, even if Martinez plays out a four-year deal with the Sox he would end the contract still younger than Posada was when he signed his extension with New York.

While Martinez struggled throwing out runners early on he was improved as the season progressed and his success rate has fluctuated throughout his career anyway. The fact that he was significantly better in 2010 (threw out 21 percent of runners) than he was in 2009 (11 percent with the Sox) may indicate that the work with catching instructor Gary Tuck has begun to pay off.

?From where he was in April to where he was in September I don?t think there?s any comparison,? Epstein said.

Even if a few speed demons have their way over the next four or five years with Martinez, those who throw to him cannot say enough about his ability to manage the game. Clay Buchholz, who blossomed this year while paired with Martinez, called the four-time All-Star a ?special guy.? Martinez notably caught CC Sabathia during his 2007 Cy Young campaign Cliff Lee?s in 2008.

Additionally, unless the club?s crush on Jarrod Saltalamacchia comes to fruition or prospects Luis Exposito or Ryan Lavarnway develop sooner rather than later, there isn?t much coming down the pipeline.   

The Sox could choose to pursue John Buck, coming off a career year in Toronto, but beyond that the free-agent class for catchers is extremely thin, save for Martinez. In 2012 it doesn?t get any juicier. Most seasons all you will find in terms of free agents at the position are those a few years older than Martinez, and not nearly the same caliber.

While the thought of a 34-year-old Martinez trying to throw out Brett Gardner in the seventh inning of a crucial game in Yankee Stadium in 2013 may cause some to cringe, better options are scarce. And there is nothing at all to suggest that Martinez?s bat will be any less valuable at that point in time. Heck, it may be even better, and the final year or two of the deal could see him at DH anyway.

After hitting .297 with an .832 OPS in his eight years with the Indians, Martinez has upped those marks to .313 and .865 with the Red Sox. His numbers at Fenway Park are even better. In 106 career games in Boston he is a .322 hitter with a .900 OPS and an astounding 83 RBIs.

Again, that?s just 106 games at Fenway Park, not nearly enough to get a full appreciation for Martinez?s abilities. Here?s hoping the Red Sox see fit to give him many more.

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