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.

What in the heck is Derek Jeter doing with the Marlins?

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Last night we linked the Miami Herald story about the Marlins firing special assistants Jeff Conine, Andre Dawson, Tony Perez and Jack McKeon. Let’s talk about that a little bit.

The firings themselves are eyebrow-raising inasmuch as “special assistants” like that are rarely key front office personnel. Former players, Hall of Famers and former managers like those guys are really ambassadors for the team and, particularly in the case of Jeff Conine, who is known as “Mr. Marlin,” why would new ownership want to kick its ambassadors to the curb? It’s not like you can just hire a bunch of new franchise legends for he role. Who ya gonna call? Dan Uggla?

Sure, I can see an argument for changing their responsibilities. If they actually had say in baseball operations, I can see new ownership wanting to relieve them of those duties. It’s also possible that Jeff Loria paid them too much money for guys who are only team ambassadors. So, sure, if the job is too cushy by the standards of the gig, I could see Jeter cutting their pay or their duties to make it conform to what other clubs do with their former stars. Maybe that makes them want to quit. If so, that’s OK I suppose.

Beyond that, however, it’s hard to see why you would NOT want guys like Conine, Dawson, Perez and McKeon to represent your club in the community and in the service of impressing prospective season ticket holders. The franchise’s first star player, a Hall of Famer who ended his career with the club, another Hall of Famer who is from Cuba (which is kind of a big deal in a place like Miami) and the manager who brought the club its last World Series championship are exactly who you want to represent your team. Especially when nearly everything else about your team has, for so very long, alienated the very public you want supporting it.

But let’s say, for the moment, that there was a good reason to fire those guys. Let’s say they’re all flaming jackwagons who have secretly poisoned the franchise from within. Let’s say that, despite his grandfatherly charm, Jack McKeon is a ruthless Machiavellian. Let’s say that Conine, Dawson and Perez beat up copy boys in the stairwells and microwave leftover fish in the break room every day. Even if that’s the case, how does this happen?

And here’s the twist: Jeter asked Marlins president David Samson to fire those four Marlins luminaries for him, because Jeter didn’t want to do it.

Even more strange, Jeter made the request after telling Samson what he already knew: that Samson would not be returning as team president.

It seems that Samson did carry out the firings. Unless some handsome severance package was being held hostage over it, I’m not sure how Samson doesn’t tell Jeter, “Hey Captain RE2PECT, know what? Up yours, you do it yourself.” Of course, one can only project one’s own sensibility on a guy like David Samson so much, so let’s cut him a bit of slack here. We don’t know how the conversation went. Maybe Samson was happy to tell those guys to hit the bricks.

But really, how doesn’t Jeter man-up and handle this himself? It’s not because he’s not yet officially the owner, because if he has the power to fire Samson, he has the power to fire Conine and his friends. Maybe there is more to this than the Herald story lets on, but as it stands now, it comes off as cowardice on Jeter’s part. It’s a really bad look.

I’ll be curious to see how this plays in the baseball establishment over the next couple of days. Everyone — particularly the press — loves Derek Jeter an credits him with a class, smoothness and media savvy matched by few others. This, though, was either (a) a failure of class and an act of disrespect to baseball luminaries; or (b) a complete bungling of public relations, serving to make what was, in reality, a reasonable move appear classless. It has to be one or the other.

Derek Jeter has been a teflon star for more than two decades, but two of the few things the media loves more than Derek Jeter are (a) old Baseball Men like McKeon, Dawson, Perez and Conine; and (b) “classiness.” It’ll be interesting to see if, for the first time in his professional life, the media gets its knives out for Derek Jeter for seeming content to dispense with both.

Dodgers top Giants, clinch fifth straight NL West title

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The Dodgers are NL West champions for the fifth time in a row. They clinched with a 4-2 win over the Giants on Friday night, taking their first and only lead on a mammoth record-breaking home run from Cody Bellinger in the third inning.

Rich Hill turned in another quality start, going six innings with five hits, a run and nine strikeouts to keep the Giants at bay. He tacked on an RBI hit of his own, too, lashing a double to left field for his first extra-base hit since 2007.

The Giants, meanwhile, deployed Jeff Samardzija and his 4.42 ERA for 4 1/3 innings. Samardzija was on the hook for the Dodgers’ four-run spread in the third and took his 15th loss of the season. Pablo Sandoval came through with a solo home run in the ninth, but the rest of San Francisco’s offense wasn’t so lucky against Kenley Jansen, who struck out the side to clinch the game — and the division.

After Friday’s showstopper, the Dodgers are just two wins away from their first 100-win season since 1974. If they win the remaining eight games of the season, they’ll beat out the 1953 Brooklyn Dodgers for the most wins in franchise history.