David Ross addition gives Red Sox plenty of flexibility

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The Red Sox are likely keeping an open mind about trading Jarrod Saltalamacchia, their strikeout-prone starting catcher, after adding David Ross on a two-year, $6.2 million contract Saturday.

Ross was briefly a member of the Red Sox back in 2008, going 1-for-8 for the club. He finished that season with Boston after the Reds cut him — Dusty Baker preferred Paul Bako. Paul Bako! — and then opened his four-year tenure with the Braves in 2009.

Ross, who has never started more than 98 games in his career, isn’t likely to become a starting catcher at age 36, but he’ll be a productive part of a job-sharing situation, perhaps in tandem with Saltalamacchia.

And Salty, for what it’s worth, does pair up better with Ross than Boston’s other catching option, Ryan Lavarnway. Saltalamacchia, a switch-hitter, has a career .591 OPS against lefties, compared to a .774 mark against righties. A platoon could work swimmingly for Boston.

Still, if the Red Sox have doubts about Saltalamacchia’s long-term role, it’d be a good idea to trade him and get something in return before he becomes a free agent next winter.  At 27 and still potentially on the upswing of his career, Salty could be considered more attractive to catcher-needy teams than free agents Russell Martin and A.J. Pierzynski. Mike Napoli is out there, too, but it doesn’t look like he’s being viewed as a full-time catcher.

So, the Red Sox have three ways they could play this:

1. Commit to Salty, perhaps signing him to a three-year extension in the $20 million range, and go with a Salty-Ross platoon. Lavarnway would become trade bait in that scenario, though it’s unlikely that he’d fetch as much as Salty.

2. Trade Salty and have Ross and Lavarnway split time. It’d likely be a step back for 2013. Lavarnway is never going to be a great defensive catcher, and he also failed to impress offensively last season, hitting .157/.211/.248 in 153 at-bats. On the other hand, he’s 25 and worthy of a shot, given the way that he has improved defensively.

3. Trade Salty and sign Napoli to create a three-headed, catching-first base monster. The Red Sox need a first baseman anyway. Sign Napoli with the idea that he’ll catch once a week initially and then enhance his role back there if Lavarnway doesn’t work out. Having a flexible first base situation would be nice anyway, since it’d allow David Ortiz to play there in interleague games in NL parks.

I imagine they’ll at least investigate possibility No. 3. It’s too early to make any sort of definitive call, but it doesn’t look like the market for Napoli will be all that strong, and since the Rangers didn’t tender him a $13.3 million offer, he wouldn’t cost the Red Sox a draft pick.

Red Sox look to punch their ticket to the World Series tonight

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Thanks to some amazing defense, some big hits and — to continue to beat this horse, a bad call by Joe West — the Red Sox have a 3-1 lead in the ALCS and look to clinch the AL Pennant tonight down in Houston.

If you believe in momentum, you’d have to say it’s on Boston’s side. If you believe that momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher, however, you’d have to say things favor Houston more than the standing of the series would suggest. All of which makes me wish Game 5 was starting right now, because it figures to be a tense and exciting affair.

ALCS Game 5

Red Sox vs. Astros
Ballpark: Minute Maid Park
Time: 8:09 PM Eastern
TV: TBS
Pitchers: David Price vs. Justin Verlander
Breakdown:

If someone told you that you had to win one baseball game against the Martians to save the human race, you could do far worse than calling on Justin Verlander to be your starting pitcher. Among the pitchers still in the postseason, he’d almost certainly be your choice right now.

Does Verlander himself appreciate the situation? This is what he said about that yesterday:

“I mean, these are all must-win games at this point. Every time you take the mound I don’t think there’s any difference whether it’s 2-2 or 3-1.”

Look, we’re asking him to beat the Martians here, not win the National Math Bee, so let’s let that go. The point is that after all of these years he’s still one of the most dominant pitchers in the game and after the exhausting, see-saw battle of Game 4, he stands the best chance of giving Houston what it needs: a quick, quiet and drama-free win.

Not that the Red Sox are likely to roll over for that. They didn’t the first time they faced Verlander in this series. They Astros won, yes, and Verlander limited them to two runs on two hits. But he also issued four walks and wasn’t his sharpest overall. Boston didn’t capitalize on his mistakes as best they could, but he’s not invincible.

For Boston it’s David Price. He allowed four runs on five hits and four walks over four and two-thirds innings in Game 2, not factoring in the decision. That’s not great, but given the talk leading up to that game being all about how Price is a postseason flop, the fact that the Sox won it in the end had to bouy him at least a little. As does the fact that, here, tonight, it’s not 100% on his shoulders. Sure, the Sox want to close this out, but with a 3-1 lead there is less pressure on Price than on his former teammate Verlander. Worth noting, though: Price is on short rest and warmed up in the bullpen last night in case he was needed to bail out Craig Kimbrel. He may not go deep into this game.