Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Red Sox Let V-Mart Walk; Bigger Moves Must Be In Store

The Red Sox certainly had their chances with Victor Martinez. It seemed that his heart was in Boston all along.

After the final game of last season, Martinez made it clear that he wanted to remain in Boston.

"It’s no question, eyes closed, come back to here. This is a place that I really want to be," said Martinez.

Yet, it seems that Martinez wanted to return to the Red Sox more than they wanted him back. Once again, as is customary, the Sox put a value on a player and refused to exceed it.

Instead, Martinez will play for the Tigers next year and beyond, after agreeing to a four-year, $50 million deal with Detroit earlier today.

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe reports that that the Red Sox offered Martinez either three years and $36 million, or four years and $42 million.

But Martinez wanted a four-year deal and apparently the Red Sox didn't want him under contract for that long. After all, they offered him a mere two-year deal during the 2010 season. In the end, it seems that long term security meant more to Martinez than anything else.

Reportedly, Martinez was offered four years and $48 million by the Orioles and three years and $48 million by the White Sox. It's odd that he took $12.5 million a year from Detroit and passed up $16 million a year from Chicago. If that's accurate, Martinez could have made more money by hitting free agency again (albeit for a lot less money) in three years instead of four.

Though $12.5 million per season seems like a reasonable sum for a catcher of Matinez's stature, the Red Sox seem to believe that Martinez won't remain a capable catcher for more than two years, or so. And the Red Sox never seem comfortable committing themselves to long term deals with players in their 30s.

As a catcher, Martinez is an outstanding hitter. But as a first baseman or DH, he is far closer to the league average and would be overpaid at $12.5 million a year.

Martinez, who turns 32 on Dec. 23, is a below-average runner and below-average catcher. No doubt, he's an outstanding hitter and teammate. But his numbers, if he were a full-time first baseman, would rank him only slightly ahead of say, free agent Adam LaRoche.

The Red Sox clearly saw this possibility developing when they made a trade with Texas in July for 25-year-old catcher Jarrod Saltalamachia. At a minimum, that move was an insurance policy against today's news.

It also seems to signal that the Sox feel comfortable going forward with Saltalamachia at catcher next season, perhaps bringing back Jason Varitek as his backup and mentor. Both players are switch hitters, but Saltalamacchia is better against righthanders and Varitek is far better against lefthanders.

The Red Sox decision not to re-sign Martinez frees up a lot of money to sign a couple of free agents. The Sox still have roughly $40 million to spend if they are to reach their payroll of last season, and last week Chairman Tom Werner said the club may in fact exceed that amount.

It's reasonable to assume the Sox will be aggressive in the free agent market and in other efforts to improve a team that missed the playoffs last season. The team's NESN ratings declined in 2010, and it seems necessary to instill some excitement in the fans this offseason.

It's a good bet that the Sox will make serious runs at Carl Crawford and Jason Werth, though they may not want to go to six and five years, respectively.

Once again, the Red Sox will place a value on each player and they will not go above it. They will not let emotion get in the way and they won't get into unwise bidding wars, especially when it comes to players in their 30s.

The current compensation system is a mess. Players often hit free agency in their 30s and expect to be paid for past performance. But most guys start slowing down in their mid-30s, just when their contracts are at their peak. The Red Sox are very wary of this.

Players should instead be paid according to current performance, starting in their rookie year. If you excel, you get paid. If you don't, you don't get paid. Older players shouldn't be getting paid in excess of younger players just because of past performance.

But, at least for the present, this is the system that the Red Sox and everyone else will have to live with. The Sox will work within the confines of this system and improve their team.

When it comes to the maneuverings of Theo Epstein, expect the unexpected. Something big may be in store. He clearly wants a young star who is entering his prime, and who the Sox can keep for the long term while he is most productive.

A big trade may be as likely as a free agent signing, and it may also come in addition to such a signing. Adrian Gonzalez and Justin Upton are the most obvious candidates, but Theo could surprise us all.

One way or the other, expect the Red Sox to make a splash and improve a team that did not finish in first or second place in the AL East for just the second time in 13 seasons.

Theo and the rest of the Red Sox front office are fully aware that that is not good enough in Boston. To the fans at least, it's simply unacceptable.

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