Victor Martinez: Yea or nay?
He struggled behind the plate, but Red Sox could use his bat and versatility
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.
Our predictions on Victor Martinez
Will the Red Sox re-sign Victor Martinez or will they go in another direction at catcher? Our experts chime in with what the Red Sox should do, then what they predict they will do. Make your predictions here.
What the Red Sox should do: The Red Sox should sign Martinez to a three-year deal.
What the Red Sox will do: Sign him to a three-year deal.
What the Red Sox should do: Unless Martinez is willing to take a short-term commitment, the Sox should acquire another catcher to share playing time with Saltalamacchia, such as John Buck or Mike Napoli.
What the Red Sox will do: Martinez will receive a much better offer elsewhere and leave.
What the Red Sox should do: The Red Sox need to lock up Martinez with a long-term contract.
What the Red Sox will do: The Red Sox will sign Martinez and have Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jason Varitek (re-sign him for one year) battle for the backup spot.
EVAN BRUNELL, blogger with Fire Brand of the American League
What the Red Sox should do: While the best option for Martinez is to catch for Boston, leaving Beltre at third and Youkilis at first, what would be tenable is signing Martinez to play first base with Youkilis at third. This would leave Boston with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who could split playing time with Jason Varitek returning for his final year as backup catcher. Worst case, the Sox would move V-Mart back behind the dish and acquire a first baseman likely to be available (paging Adrian Gonzalez or Prince Fielder). Bottom line, Martinez' flexibility gives the Sox options, which is needed in any "bridge year" scenario.
What the Red Sox will do: Martinez will return to the Red Sox, which allows Boston to put off an additional year evaluating Jarrod Saltalamacchia as a backup and also presents a possible option of Martinez being moved to first base on a platoon or full-time role down the road.
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?
• 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.[+] EnlargeMike 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.
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