News broke yesterday on MLB Trade Rumors that David Ross, former backup catcher for the Atlanta Braves, has agreed to a two-year/$6.2 million deal to join the Boston Red Sox. He had a solid season backing up Brian McCann, hitting .256/.321/.449 with 9 homers and 23 RBI. What makes this signing interesting is that Boston already had two serviceable catchers on their roster in Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway. With Lavarnway being only 24-years-old and GM Ben Cherington trading away Kelly Shoppach to the Mets last August to give him more playing time, one would have to think the Sox will start shopping Salty on the open market. If they do, Sandy Alderson should inquire about the young backstop’s services.
Now 27-years-old, Saltalamacchia was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the first round of the 2003 first year draft, being taken with the 36th overall pick. Four years later, he made his debut with the organization that drafted him, but after he put up a .284/.333/.411 line halfway through his rookie season, he was the centerpiece of the trade that netted the Braves Mark Teixeira from the Texas Rangers. He was never able to get a lot of playing time in Arlington, appearing in more than 65 games once in his four years with the franchise before being shipped up to Boston. As Jason Varitek‘s time as a starting catcher dwindled, Salty finally got his opportunity to be a team’s starting catcher.
In 2011, he hit .235/.288/.450 with 16 homers, and 56 RBI in 358 at-bats. When looking back at his 2012 season, he did regress in some respects with a .222/.288/.454 line, but fans in Beantown saw his power develop more, as he slugged a career-high 25 homers and drove in 59 runs during a trying season under the direction of former manager Bobby Valentine. The biggest problem with Saltalamacchia is that he strikes out a ton; in 2011, he whiffed 119 times, and saw that total rise up to 139 strikeouts in 405 at-bats.
However, he’s still young and is finally getting his chance to be a starting catcher in the Major Leagues, so his potential to improve is still much higher than someone like Shoppach or Miguel Olivo. He’s also still under team control, as he signed a one-year/$2.5 million deal with Boston last year and is arbitration-eligible again this winter before becoming a free agent in 2014. Finally, he’s also a switch hitter, which would give Terry Collins that balance of still being able to use Josh Thole for R.A. Dickey‘s starts and against right-handed pitchers.
So, this looks good, right? He strikes out a lot, but with the potential to hit 25-30 home runs per season, you sometimes have to take on some more punchouts to bring more power into your lineup. Despite the slugging potential from Saltalamacchia, he wouldn’t provide the Mets the production they need in the specific situation they would need him most.
It’s obvious the Mets need more power in their lineup, as their 139 home runs ranked 11th in the National League, but they also need a right-handed hitter to help even out a left-handed dominated lineup when a southpaw takes the mound. Last season in Boston, Saltalamacchia hit an awful .170/.211/.283 against lefties, but in only 53 at-bats. Meanwhile, only one homer out of the 25 he hit in 2012 came off a southpaw. Since he didn’t get much of a chance to hit lefties last year, I decided to look at his career splits, but that didn’t make me feel much better. He’s obviously gotten more opportunity against right-handers throughout his tenure in the Big Leagues, but in 469 career at-bats against lefties, Saltalamacchia has hit .203/.256/.335 with 14 homers and 50 RBI, while putting together a much less alarming .254/.321/.453 line with 50 homers and 160 RBI against righties.
So, should Alderson inquire about Saltalamacchia’s availability to Boston GM Ben Cherington? Absolutely. At this point, whenever there is a catcher that is available via the trade market, Sandy should be picking up his phone to chat with his fellow executive, especially when they’re 27-years-old, under team control, and has 20+ homer potential. However, if the asking price is high, like Jonathon Niese or Dillon Gee, any chance for this deal should be thrown out the window. If I’m Sandy in this situation, I would be willing to give up a pitcher like Collin McHugh or even Jenrry Mejia; seasoned prospects that aren’t quite ready for the Big Leagues, but could be by the end of 2013. If Cherington wants an MLB-ready starter, the most I would offer is Jeremy Hefner. There is no way he can sell high on Saltalamacchia this winter; despite his 25 home runs from last year, his two straight years of sub-.300 OBP won’t help his case.
What do you think? Should the Mets pursue Saltalamacchia hard because he can hit right-handed and has power, or should they not because he strikes out a lot and can’t seem to hit lefties? Let us know in the comment thread below.