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.