Seemingly the only way that catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is not a major factor in the construction of the 2011 Red Sox is if they decide to re-sign both Victor Martinez and Jason Varitek and give Saltalamacchia a little more time at the Triple-A level, an unlikely scenario.
Either the man with the lengthiest last name in major league history is a backup to Martinez and the eventual successor or he assumes the starting job right away, despite over a year of physical and mental woes and a short stint with the Sox in 2010 that showed the club next to nothing.
Next to nothing, that is, on the field. Red Sox executives have expressed confidence in Saltalamacchia’s ability to take over in the event Martinez walks. They apparently saw enough of Saltalamacchia when he was in his youth to target him multiple times in rumored trades, and when they finally landed him on the cheap their catching future appeared to be cinched, regardless of the roadblocks the 25-year-old continues to hit.
But after the regression in the young catcher’s play and health over the last two years it is safe to ask the question, is Jarrod Saltalamacchia a viable candidate to start at catcher?
A former first-round pick, Saltalamacchia looked the part when he broke in with Atlanta in 2007 and finished that year — after being traded to Texas in the Mark Teixeira deal — with 11 homers in 308 at-bats. He batted .241 with 12 dingers in parts of two years with the Rangers, certainly not setting the world on fire. Then, his baseball world nearly fell apart.
After 84 games in 2009 Saltalamacchia had Thoracic Outlet surgery, ending that campaign and creating the possible cause for throwing issues that caused Texas to send him to the minors the following season to work on the simple things, such as getting the ball back to the pitcher. The yips appear to be a thing of the past but the whole charade sent Saltalamacchia back to the drawing board and eventually to his third organization in four years. He played 10 games with the Red Sox last year, hitting just .158 before shutting it down to have thumb surgery. He also had back problems with the Rangers and spent time on the disabled list shortly after arriving in Boston with a mysterious leg infection.
Not exactly the career path that engenders confidence for a fan base used to standouts behind the plate. Simply put, Saltalamacchia has not proven he can stay on the field, and when on it has not proven much, with the exception of some good pop early in his career and the ability to draw a walk now and then.
Therefore, if you hand the keys to Saltalamacchia and ask him to work with a pitching staff that loves both Varitek and Martinez, you need a backup that will not only suffice when Saltalamacchia needs a rest but also help the starter hone his craft. Enter Varitek. While there has been little talk of Varitek coming back, he would be the perfect complement to a young, talented but unproven Saltalamacchia.
Saltalamacchia as the starting catcher is an iffy proposition right now. Saltalamacchia as the starting catcher with the captain giving him guidance is much less so, and that could be the scenario under which Salty finally blossoms into the star backstop.
Now more than a year removed from having to accept his "demotion" from starter to backup, Varitek could find a little more life in a newfound role as mentor. It suits him well.
The talent is there for Saltalamacchia. The track record is not. With a steady hand helping him ease into the starting role, perhaps the transition works for the Red Sox.
Each day of November, NESN.com will explore a different issue facing the Red Sox this offseason.
Nov. 20: Which minor league talents will make the biggest splash if and when called up to the majors?
Nov. 22: Is Hideki Okajima worth being tendered a contract?