Commentary

Victor Martinez: Yea or nay?

He struggled behind the plate, but Red Sox could use his bat and versatility

Updated: October 7, 2010, 8:08 PM ET
By Gordon Edes | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The official position on catcher Victor Martinez, as expressed by Boston Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein? "He's done a great job and we'd love to see the relationship continue,'' Epstein said on the season's final day.

Martinez's position on returning to the Sox? Definitely his first choice, he said Sunday, emphasizing again and again his greatest desire is to win a World Series ring.

Given the mutual affection, why does it seem no better than a 50-50 proposition that Martinez will be back in 2011?

Here's why:

• Teams stole 169 bases against the Red Sox in 2010, the most in the majors. The big league average was 99. There were nine games in which clubs stole four or more bases against the Sox -- again, most in the majors. Martinez was behind the plate for four of those games, including the excruciating April night when the Texas Rangers ran at will, stealing nine bags.

It wasn't any better in September. In the season's final 26 games, teams stole 42 bases against the Sox while getting caught just six times. In Martinez's last game behind the plate in 2010, the Yankees stole four bases, three while Martinez was catching.

• The Sox traded for one catcher this season, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and placed a waiver claim on another, Mike Napoli, which hardly suggests a club prepared to commit its future to Martinez. The Sox did not offer an extension to Martinez, even when he made it clear he'd rather do that than go to free agency. Now, he's ready to see what price he can command.

• There are catchers available who cannot match Martinez's bat but would be more than adequate offensively while representing a defensive upgrade. Catchers such as Toronto's John Buck, who would come at a much lesser price than Martinez would command. One of Theo Epstein's top assistants, Allard Baird, thought so highly of Buck back when he was Kansas City GM that when he unloaded star center-fielder Carlos Beltran for cash reasons, Buck was a key part of the return package.

Buck hit 20 home runs for the Blue Jays in 2010, a number that could jump in Fenway Park, in the opinion of big-league scouts. He also threw out 27 percent of would-be base-stealers. Napoli spent much of his time at first base for the Angels after Kendry Morales fractured his leg, but he hit 26 home runs and threw out 26.8 percent of would-be base-stealers. Buck is considered better than Napoli in the other defensive aspects of the game.

• The Sox have catchers in the pipeline that could be major league-ready by 2012. One is Ryan Lavarnway, the former Yale star who was the Red Sox's minor league co-offensive player of the year and is being sent to the Arizona Fall League, a launching pad for many big leaguers. Another is Tim Federowicz, considered the top defensive catching prospect in the system. A third is the Cuban defector Adalberto Ibarra, who like shortstop Jose Iglesias is just in the beginning stages of his pro-ball career here. Mark Wagner and Luis Exposito provide depth.

Saltalamacchia, of course, was the Opening Day catcher for the Texas Rangers in each of the past two seasons and figures to be at least the backup catcher next season, which is why Jason Varitek is a virtual certainty to either be playing elsewhere in 2011 or retired. There was a reason the Sox gave him the big public sendoff in Sunday's finale.

• Martinez will have some deep-pocketed suitors likely willing to commit more dollars and years than the Red Sox. The Tigers could see him in tandem with young catcher Alex Avila, as well as backup first baseman and DH. The White Sox could be losing both catcher A.J. Pierzynski and first baseman Paul Konerko, and also will need a DH to replace the fading Manny Ramirez. The Orioles could use him as a backup to young catcher Matt Wieters while giving him lots of playing time at first base and DH. The Florida Marlins are not spenders, but they've made it known that they're in the market for a veteran catcher.

[+] EnlargeVictor Martinez
Mike Stobe/Getty ImagesIt seems a 50-50 proposition that Victor Martinez will be back in a Red Sox uniform next season.

All of these factors suggest a change may be in the offing, especially if the Red Sox elect to commit their free-agent dollars to the pursuit of an outfielder such as Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford, or are successful in engineering a trade for Adrian Gonzalez. But again, there are so many movable pieces in the Sox's offseason puzzle, Martinez's return cannot be ruled out, especially given his productive bat and leadership. But it looks iffy at best.

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.

Gordon Edes

Red Sox reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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