Red Sox to explore replacements for V-Mart
Catcher set to sign with Tigers; Epstein to go another route
BOSTON -- Though Theo Epstein had said recently it was his preference to have Victor Martinez back in the fold for next season and beyond, you can be sure he was formulating alternate plans all along. Boston's general manager will explore all of them more thoroughly now that Martinez, the switch-hitting slugger and catcher, is on the verge of signing a four-year, $50 million deal with the Tigers.
The Red Sox, during Epstein's regime, have not been a team that gets into free-agent bidding wars. Epstein prefers to place a value on a player ahead of time, and if the market dictates a higher price tag, Boston typically walks away. The last two proposals the Red Sox made to Martinez? A three-year package worth $36 million and a four-year deal which would have paid Martinez $42 million.
In the end, it wasn't enough for the sides to reach common ground. So as with Jason Bay, Martinez's stint with the Red Sox consisted of a season-and-a-half after being initially acquired in a July 31 blockbuster in 2009.
And the other similarity with Bay is that there are no regrets. Martinez produced in his time with Boston, and the club liked having him around. As a parting gift, the Red Sox will get the 19th pick in the 2011 First-Year Player Draft because of Martinez's Type A free-agent status.
Manager Terry Francona was hardly blindsided by the news. He had been in contact with Epstein as recently as Monday night about where things stood with Martinez.
"Sometimes it works out where a guy doesn't come back. That doesn't mean we're not going to be any good," Francona said in an interview with Boston radio station WEEI. "I feel real confident. The winter has to play itself out. It's just beginning. It will be really interesting.
"Being the manager is a little bit different [than being the GM] ... making the lineup out is a little bit different than having to be the caretaker for the organization and looking at it four years down the road. I try not to lose sight of that. Wanting to have Victor in the lineup next April is a no-brainer. When you have to make a decision and you're talking $40, $45, $50 million, four years down the road, that's not quite as easy. I respect that."
It's doubtful the Red Sox will replace Martinez's offense with their next catcher. Aside from Joe Mauer, Buster Posey and Brian McCann, there aren't many catchers who figure to hit at Martinez's level in 2011. Instead, what Boston will likely try to do is replace that production at a different position.
Carl Crawford and Jayson Werth are two stud free-agent outfielders Boston has already reached out to. The Red Sox know all about Crawford, having competed against him so many times per season in the American League East for the last several years.
"I think he's a game changer," Francona told WEEI hosts Dale Arnold and Michael Holley. "He's that guy that can change a game defensively, offensively. When he gets on base, he gives you a headache. He has a little bit of that Johnny Damon in him, where he's swinging and I'm not sure he knows where the ball is going, but he fouls off six or seven and then he'll rifle one into right field or bounce one and beat it out. He has a way of changing the game. It frustrates the heck out of you. Sometimes you can do everything right, and if he gets on base, you can't throw him out."
Epstein has also spoken with the D-backs about a possible trade for Justin Upton, a 23-year-old outfielder who figures to keep getting better offensively. Adrian Gonzalez, San Diego's star first baseman, could be on the trade market in the coming weeks.
Who will catch for Boston in 2011? There are several ways Epstein could go about it, thanks to the presence of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, a catcher who is under the club's contractual control for the next three seasons.
A switch-hitter, Saltalamacchia has been slowed by injuries and some inconsistency to this point in his career. But the Sox like what they've seen from a player who is still just 25 years old and is expected to put in extra work with Gary Tuck, the organization's catching guru, this winter. Saltalamacchia played in 10 games for Boston after being acquired from Texas -- his time cut short by a torn ligament in his left thumb that required season-ending surgery.
At the General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla., last week, Epstein said that the club could use Saltalamacchia in several ways in 2011, including as the primary catcher, in a job-sharing capacity or even as a backup.
Epstein and Co. did not offer arbitration to Jason Varitek, the catcher who has been with the Red Sox since 1997, but whose role has decreased the last couple of years. Varitek, the team's captain until he signs elsewhere, is 38. But he proved last year -- before breaking his right foot thanks to a foul tip by Crawford -- that he can be a solid backup.
If Boston decides to part ways with its longtime leader, the front office will go on an expansive search for a player to complement Saltalamacchia.
Bengie Molina, who played for the two teams who were in the World Series this year -- the Giants and Rangers -- is a free agent. He could mentor Saltalamacchia in a fashion similar to Varitek. Molina is a Type A free agent, meaning the Red Sox would have to give up Draft compensation if the Rangers offer him arbitration by Tuesday's deadline.
Another possibility to keep an eye on is a trade for Angels catcher Mike Napoli, a player the Red Sox made a waiver claim on back in August. Napoli clubbed 26 homers in 2010, and had a good relationship with right-hander John Lackey when they were together with the Halos.
Chris Iannetta, a player with Rhode Island roots, might be dangled by the Rockies. If so, the Red Sox have always liked his bat.
While the panic level in Red Sox Nation inevitably went up on Tuesday, Francona has worked with Epstein long enough to know that he will like the club that assembles in Fort Myers, Fla., come February.
"If we went down to Fort Myers and we didn't have a catcher, I'd be anxious," said Francona. "I've been here long enough to know that this is the way it goes. When you're the Red Sox and you have a high payroll and veteran players, you're going to have free agents. That's just the way it is. Theo and his guys have to walk the fine line of protecting -- we talk about loyalty, and we certainly believe in that -- but not going too far and have guys maybe in the last couple years of their contracts not doing what you want.
"I understand it's Nov.  and Victor is going somewhere else. Saying that, I have a feeling that by Feb. 15, we'll have a team set in place."