Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Friday, November 26, 2010

Losing Martinez Saves Red Sox Money, Creates Big Hole In Lineup

The Red Sox lost Victor Martinez to the Tigers because they were outbid by $8 million dollars over four years. That amounts to just $2 million per season.

While the Red Sox were willing to offer Martinez the four-year deal he wanted, they weren't willing to go to $50 million for him. But the Tigers were.

The Red Sox made two separate offers to Martinez; a three-year deal worth $36 million and a four-year deal worth $42 million.

Even though Martinez and his agents made it clear to the Red Sox on Monday night that he was prepared to accept another offer elsewhere, the Red Sox held their ground. In the end, Martinez accepted Detroit's four-year, $50 million offer.

Even the Orioles, who offered just $2 million less, outbid the Red Sox.

The Red Sox were unwilling to go to four years, $52 million with Johnny Damon, which ended up being a regrettable decision by Theo Epstein. They can only hope that their decision with Martinez doesn't end up being similarly regrettable in the next couple of years.

The Red Sox now have a gaping hole in the middle of the order that needs to be filled by opening day. Fortunately, that is more than four months away. There is time to find a suitable, or superior, replacement.

But one thing is for sure; the Red Sox won't get the same kind of production from their catcher next season, no matter who it is. Martinez is one of the two or three best offensive catchers in the game today, behind Joe Mauer, and along with Brian McCann.

Martinez is a career .300 hitter, which is especially impressive for a catcher. Excluding the 2008 season (in which he was injured), Martinez has averaged 18 homers and 83 RBI each year since he became a full-time player in 2004.

While those are nice numbers for a catcher, the RBI and home run totals are not particularly striking. In fact, Martinez has hit 25 homers just once and driven in 100 RBI just three times in his eight full seasons in the majors. As a first baseman or DH, those numbers would be rather pedestrian.

But Martinez's offense wasn't the Red Sox' primary concern. His age (32 next month) and defensive shortcomings were the things that gave them pause. Martinez threw out only 27 of 99 base-stealers last season.

And the Sox also had questions about Martinez's game-calling skills. Red Sox pitchers had a 4.28 earned run average throwing to Martinez. With other catchers, Sox pitchers had a 4.05 ERA. Additionally, opponents had a .738 OPS with Martinez behind the plate — just above the American League average — and a .706 OPS with other catchers.

The Red Sox felt that Martinez would only remain an effective catcher for perhaps the next two seasons and that he would then need to shift to first base or DH after that. While they felt he would be worth the price of a top-notch catcher for the first two years of the contract, they didn't feel he'd be worth $12.5 million per season beyond that.

However, it's interesting that the Sox are willing to pay David Ortiz (who can’t hit lefties) $12.5 million to DH when the going rate is $6 million — tops. They’ll also wind up paying Jonathan Papelbon nearly $12 million next season, despite his regression. And J.D. Drew will will continue to be wildly overpaid in 2011, making another $14 million.

Yet, the Red Sox deemed that Martinez — a switch-hitter who crushes left-handed pitching — was not worth $12.5 million per year for the next four years.

The money they've saved can be spent elsewhere to address other needs. While the Sox may go with an inexpensive platoon of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek behind the plate, they will need to make up for loss of Martinez's offense somehow. And should they also lose Adrian Beltre, there will then be two gaping holes in the lineup.

If Saltalamacchia ever delivers on the promise that so many scouts and talent evaluators have seen in him for so long, he will be quite a bargain for the Sox. His big body and swing make 18 homers and 83 RBI seem within reason. That would make up for the loss of Martinez for a whole lot less money.

The names Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Justin Upton and Adrian Gonzalez have all been mentioned as potential Red Sox targets. The reality is the the Red Sox may now need two of them — or two hitters of the same caliber — to maintain their high-powered offense.

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