Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Victor Martinez to the Tigers
The first major event of the Red Sox offseason is imminent, and it's not the news any of us were hoping for. No, Theo didn't manage to trade for Adrian Gonzalez or Elvis Andrus, or perform a miracle and sign Cliff Lee (at least, not yet). Sadly, the first big-name signing this offseason involves the Detroit Tigers winning the services of former Sox catcher Victor Martinez.
According to MLB.com, the Tigers offered VMart four years and $50 million, and that was enough. We know that Martinez was rather miffed that the Sox didn't extend him before the 2010 season, a la Josh Beckett, or even during the season, despite Theo's well-documented dislike of carrying on contract discussions in-season.
At first glance, this looks bad. Catastrophic, even, since the Red Sox are left with the mostly-untried Jarrod Saltalamacchia and (possibly) the ever-aging Jason Varitek. However, there are reasons for the choice to not retain Martinez - and trust me, this was a CHOICE on Theo's part.
The Red Sox aren't sure how long Victor can continue to be an effective backstop, and his defense behind the plate has never been spectacular, despite some strides in that area in 2010. For a catcher, VMart is extremely effective with the bat, but once he has to make the inevitable transition to first base (or DH), his numbers will be league-average at best. The Red Sox are currently overpaying an aging designated hitter, and it's not a position that they like to be in.
According to boston.com's Extra Bases blog, the Red Sox offered Martinez two separate contracts: "three years and $36 million or four years and $42 million," but neither seemed to be enough for the soon-to-be 32-year-old, as he took Detroit's offer instead.
Before everyone storms Fenway Park's front office with their torches and pitchforks, please take a second to understand that Theo Epstein always has reasons for signing the players he does, and letting others walk - and usually, the reasons are good (excepting at the shortstop position). With Martinez's presumptive salary off the books, the Red Sox have a great deal of wiggle room for their 2011 payroll. They will also doubtless offer Victor arbitration, and thus receive two draft picks for him, as he is a Type A free agent.
This could be the non-deal that allows the Sox to go out and sign a Carl Crawford, or a Jayson Werth, and which could potentially give them the freedom to part with some prospects (and someone like Jacoby Ellsbury) for Adrian Gonzalez.
It's important to remember how things have panned out in recent years when Theo has allowed a Red Sox free agent to walk. Jason Bay came off a great season for the Sox and had a terrible, injury-plagued season for the Mets (though he would have fit in with the walking wounded at Fenway). Pedro Martinez was a shell of his former self by the middle of his deal, post-Sox. Nomar Garciaparra, anyone? (Okay, so that was a trade, but he was never the same.)
I trust Theo. Almost unconditionally. In fact, I might believe in him more than I do my friends and family (probably a problem in my personal relationships). I believe he has a plan, that he will leave no stone unturned, and that ultimately, he'll put a great team on the field in 2011. All they have to do is stay healthy...