Red Sox manager Terry Francona has seen 186 different players come through his clubhouse doors since joining the organization prior to the 2004 season. He has become accustomed to the fact that in the business of baseball, the faces will always change, no matter how pretty they are.
Perhaps that’s why Francona had no problems taking a business-as-usual approach to the news that All-Star catcher Victor Martinez had signed with the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday afternoon.
In speaking on WEEI’s Dale and Holley Show moments after the Martinez signing broke, Francona acted like a man who was prepared to lose his No. 3 hitter and starting catcher.
“These things happen,” said Francona, ironically speaking from the floor of a casino, from where the show was being broadcast. “When guys get to free agency, there’s a lot of decisions that need to be made. One’s by the player, one’s by the organization and one’s by the other teams. So sometimes it doesn’t work out to where a guy doesn’t come back. That doesn’t mean we’re not gonna be any good.
“I feel real confident that winter has to play itself out. It’s just beginning and it’ll be really interesting.”
One interesting facet of the remainder of the winter surrounds the Red Sox’ catching situation without Martinez. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the presumed replacement, with Jason Varitek a free agent and an option to play backup.
General manager Theo Epstein last week expressed confidence in Saltalamacchia in an everyday role, but according to Francona, that scenario is not set in stone. For one, Saltalamacchia deserves time to become the right fit, rather than be rushed into it.
“I think we view him potentially as someone who can really fit the bill as maybe even the everyday catcher for us,” the skipper said. “Now, saying that, I don’t know if we want to just, because of everything he’s been through, hand everything to him April 1 and say, ‘Go get ’em.’
“Sometimes you’re helping set somebody up to fail, and we don’t want that to happen. We want to help this kid progress because we really like what’s in there but we also want to help him get there.”
Francona would love to have an All-Star at every position when he fills out the lineup card. He also knows that the organization must balance whether to give a free agent everything he needs or to move on and choose to work with a guy like Saltalamacchia.
The front office has to see the big picture, and Francona must have confidence in the front office.
“If we went down to Fort Myers and we didn’t have a catcher, I’d be anxious,” he said. “I’ve been here long enough to know this is the way it goes. When you’re the Red Sox and you have a huge payroll and veteran players, you’re gonna have free agents. That’s just the way it is.
“Theo and his guys have to walk that fine line of protecting … we talk about loyalty and we certainly believe in that, but not going too far and having guys maybe in the last couple of years of the contract maybe not doing what you want.”
The Red Sox will not have to worry about that happening with Martinez, who will be 35 in the final year of his contract with the Tigers. And, if Francona’s words mean anything, they won’t have to worry about what the loss means to the club in 2011.
“I understand that it’s November 22 and Victor’s going somewhere else,” he said. “I have a feeling that by February 15, we’ll have a team set in place.”