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.

Noah Syndergaard: ‘I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency’

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Yankees starter Luis Severino and Phillies starter Aaron Nola both signed contract extensions within the last week. Severino agreed to a four-year, $40 million contract with a 2023 club option. Nola inked a four-year, $45 million deal with a 2023 club option.

While the deals both represented significant raises and longer-term financial security for the right-handed duo, some feel like the players are selling themselves short. It has become a more common practice for players to agree to these types of deals in part due to how stagnant free agency has become. Get the money while you can.

Mets starter Noah Syndergaard is in a similar situation as Severino and Nola were. He and the Mets avoided arbitration last month, agreeing on a $6 million salary for the 2019 season. He has two more years of arbitration eligibility left. A contract extension with the Mets would presumably cover both of those years plus two or three years of what would be free agent years. As Tim Britton of The Athletic reports, however, Syndergaard plans to test free agency when the time comes.

Syndergaard said, “I trust my ability and the talent that I have. So I feel like I’m going to bet (on) myself in free agency and not do what they did. But if it’s fair for both sides and they approach me on it, then maybe we can talk.” He clarified that he would be open to a conversation about an extension, but the Mets thus far haven’t approached him about it. In his words, “There’s been no traction.”

Syndergaard, 26, has been one of baseball’s better starters since debuting in 2015. He owns a career 2.93 ERA with 573 strikeouts and 116 walks in 518 1/3 innings. Among pitchers to have logged at least 400 innings since 2015 and post a lower ERA are Clayton Kershaw (2.22), Jacob deGrom (2.66) and Max Scherzer (2.71). Syndergaard made only seven starts in 2017 yet still ranks seventh among pitchers in total strikeouts since 2015.

If Sydergaard doesn’t end up signing an extension, he will be entering free agency after the 2021 season. The collective bargaining agreement expires in December 2021 and a new one will likely be agreed upon around that time. Syndergaard will hopefully have better prospects entering free agency then than players do now.