Jesse Litsch, Chris Iannetta

Red Sox could look to Iannetta, Napoli with Victor gone

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While the Red Sox made noises about viewing Victor Martinez’s return as a priority, they didn’t get very aggressive with their offers, suggesting that they were prepared to lose him all along. 

In the big picture, that makes sense.  Martinez is a subpar defensive catcher who won’t be getting any better in his mid-30s.   The Tigers will have the option of using him primarily as a DH in the second half of his deal, so maybe it will work out for them.  The Red Sox, though, weren’t interested in paying $12.5 million apiece for his age 34 and 35 seasons.

And if the Red Sox were going to lose Martinez, this was probably the best-case scenario.  The Tigers “lost” a tiebreaker with the A’s at season’s end and thus have the earliest pick in the first round that’s not protected.  If the Tigers had finished 80-82, they would have kept their first-rounder no matter how many free agents they signed this winter.  Since they went 81-81, they’ll lose their first pick, the 19th overall selection*, and it will go to Boston unless the Tigers sign Jayson Werth, Cliff Lee, Mariano Rivera or Rafael Soriano.

(*The Tigers had the 16th best record, but three teams in the top half of the first round are getting compensation picks for failing to sign their selections last summer.)

Martinez’s loss leaves the Red Sox with Jarrod Saltalamacchia and not much else at catcher.  The team was linked with fellow free agent John Buck, but it’s doubtful there was serious interest now, at least not at the kind of dollars he ended up getting from Florida.  A.J. Pierzynski and Miguel Olivo are still out there in free agency, but the Red Sox will probably look to the trade market if they’re going to upgrade from Salty.

The Red Sox have been linked to Iannetta for about a year and a half now, and rumor had the Rockies turning down an offer of Jed Lowrie for him before the trade deadline last season.  Boston would surely prefer to hang on to Lowrie after his strong second half, but a deal involving the two players would still make a lot of sense.  Iannetta doesn’t hit for average, but he’s gotten on base 35 percent of the time in his young career and hit 49 homers in 1,084 at-bats.

Napoli would probably come cheaper.  He’s a weaker defender than Iannetta, but he has basically the same career OPS as Martinez.  Last season, he hit 26 homers in 453 at-bats while splitting time pretty evenly between catcher and first base.   He’s due about $5 million in arbitration, and given Mike Scioscia’s preference for strong defensive catchers, the Angels might be ready to move on.

One more possibility is Russell Martin.  The former All-Star could be non-tendered by the Dodgers after hitting .248/.347/.332 in 331 at-bats during a 2010 season cut short by injury.  He’s declined defensively as well, but at 28, it’d be worth gambling a few million dollars on his ability to rebound.

If the price is right, I expect the Red Sox to come away with one of the trio.  If not, then they could well stick with Salty as their starting catcher and re-sign Jason Varitek or bring in Gregg Zaun as a backup.  They could always reverse course and trade for a veteran over the summer if it doesn’t work out.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.