Red Sox comfortable with Saltalamacchia as starting catcher


Red Sox comfortable with Saltalamacchia as starting catcher

By Sean McAdam

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Beyond their own Victor Martinez, there weren't a lot of catching options on the free-agent market for the Red Sox this winter and one of the ones which did interest them -- at least somewhat -- disappeared when John Buck agreed to a three-year, 18 million deal with the Florida Marlins.

The Red Sox liked Buck and perhaps would have been willing to give him a two-year deal. But the three-year pact -- to say nothing of the money involved -- was more than they were willing to offer.

With little else on the catching market beyond journeyman Miguel Olivo, the Sox might have to trade for catching help if Martinez can't be re-signed. Or they could go with Jarrod Saltalamacchia as their starting catcher.

"We're comfortable with Saltalamacchia in a role anywhere from backup to job-share to everyday guy,'' said Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, "depending on how the rest of the club shapes up. We like him. Obviously, we liked him from a scouting standpoint and we took the opportunity to buy low after he went through a rough period.

"But he really impressed the staff, who had no vested interest in him. He really opened some eyes, from the manager to catching instructor Gary Tuck to the pitching coach, with the way he handled pitchers, the way he threw, to the way he conducted himself in the clubhouse. He was impressive to everybody.''

Saltalamacchia lacks much major-league experience, having never played more than 93 games in a season. The Sox lost some evaluation time in September when he was found to have a thumb injury, requiring season-ending surgery.

Still, the Sox may be willing to give him the chance to win the job.

"At some point,'' said Epstein, "you've got to give a chance to young players and let them build value. He's one of those guys -- Jed Lowrie is potentially another and Ryan Kalish is potentially another. We're not going to have high-profile solutions to all our needs, so it's good to have those alternatives where you might be taking an educated gamble, but you're also potentially building a lot of value in those guys and giving them an opportunity to put themselves into the core that we're developing.''

Of course, it's one thing to go with an untested infielder or outfielder. But going with a young catcher is a bigger leap of faith, given all the responsibilities at hand.

"It is a little harder to do at catcher sometimes,'' agreed Epstein, "unless the player has those attributes you're looking for -- someone who cares about his pitching staff, someone who calls a good game and works hard and prepares. Saltalamacchia does fit that criteria. Obviously, he's coming off the thumb surgery, which makes it him a little riskier.''

Beyond improving the outfield, another of Epstein's goals this winter is upgrading the bullpen, especially in the set-up area.

There are a number of quality set-up men available, including Scott Downs, Grant Balfour and Joaquin Benoit. But because of the amount of interest -- and big-market teams such as the Yankees and Phillies intent on improving their bullpen -- Epstein might be forced to go against his instincts and hand out a multiyear deal to one of those relievers.

In the past, Epstein has said that multiyear deals for middle- and set-up relievers are frequently bad investments because performance can be so inconsistent for those pitchers.

"There's a good chance we'll have do one,'' acknowledged Epstein. "I'm not opposed to the right multiyear deal for the right reliever. If it's a reasonable multiyear deal which survives some value to the club and it's a pitcher that gives you a compelling reason to trust going forward, then, sure.

"What we're trying to avoid is the overeaction -- a pitcher who has an up-and-down career who has one good year, then you lock yourself into a three-year deal for that pitcher and it really hamstrings you. That's the thing you want to avoid.

"But no team operates in a vacuum. You can't pick the player, pick the contract you want. You have to be competitive in the marketplace, so you work hard to find the most reasonable deals you can.''

As a hedge against too many gambles, the Sox have already made deals for two relievers at minimal cost -- obtaining Andrew Miller for Dustin Richardson and claiming Taylor Buchholz from Toronto.

"Obviously, they're both low-cost acquisitions,'' said Epstein, "in which we're trying to capture some upside. In Buchholz' case, what he did out of the bullpen a couple of years ago (2.17 ERA in 63 games with Colorado in 2008) was really impressive, from a stuff and performance standpoint.

"In Miller's case, we're excited about the upside that made him a high first-round pick and a top prospect that we still think exists in there somewhere.''

Epstein hinted that newly-hired pitching coach Curt Young will visit with Miller soon to map out a "foundation -- physically, mentally, fundamentally -- so we have a plan. We'll try to build that foundation now so that we get to spring training, he can just go out and perform.''

Sean McAdam can be reached at Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Drellich: Why David Ortiz should hang around the Red Sox more often

Drellich: Why David Ortiz should hang around the Red Sox more often

BOSTON — David Ortiz should stop by Fenway Park more often. 

There may be no tangible gain for his old teammates. At this point, it defies logic to think there’d be tangible harm.

On Thursday evening before Ortiz’s charity roast at House of Blues, Red Sox president Sam Kennedy recalled how it was a no-brainer to plan Friday’s jersey retirement so soon after Ortiz’s exit from the game. 

Kennedy said he was the one who actually broached the question with team management last year. Basically, everyone looked at him sideways because of the implication any other time but right away made sense.

“No person has meant more to the [John] Henry-[Larry] Lucchino-[Tom] Werner era than David Ortiz,” Kennedy said.

Let’s accept the premise wholly: that because Ortiz is so special, the timing for his ceremony deserved to be just as unique. The design of the day was centered on how much Ortiz means to people: fans, the team.

Why, then, has Ortiz been staying away from the ballclub? Dustin Pedroia has been a leader for years. Ortiz is a positive influence. The idea that having Big Papi swing by Fenway sometimes would actively stunt the development of the Red Sox’ identity is a stretch. 

There’s been a grace period of nearly three months. 

“Well I, I could never entirely walk away. I have been around,” Ortiz said Friday night in a press conference. “I have been watching the games and I have been in touch with my teammates. I have been in touch with the organization. You know, I just don’t like to, you know, be in the way of anything. 

“I know that, me retiring, it was going to have a big impact on what we do around here. So I don’t — I tell myself, give everybody their space and I don’t want to, now that I’m not playing, I don’t want to be a distraction. And I know that coming to the field sometimes, it can cause a distraction or something, so. I have been able to keep my distance so I’m not in nobody’s way. But I stay in touch with everybody and I have been pretty busy also, doing a lot of things. 

“But me and the organization, we’ve been talking for a while about me working with the organization. Probably Sam Kennedy can give you guys more info about it. But it’s going to happen, and at some point I’m going to be able to help out somewhere, somehow some way.”

It’d be ridiculous to say Ortiz is the reason Rick Porcello pitched well and Hanley Ramirez homered Friday. It’d be a flat-out lie.

But Ortiz’s presence shouldn’t somehow be a distraction, if leadership and the mentality in the Red Sox clubhouse is as the Red Sox describe it.

"Pedey has been a leader of this team for the entire time he's been here,” manager John Farrell said Friday. “To me, the clubhouse has been a place where guys have felt comfortable. They've been able to come in and be themselves. They have rallied around one another when times have called for that. When you remove an individual, there are going to be other people who step up. I firmly believe that has taken place.”

If that’s the case, then how does what Farrell said in the same pregame press conference yesterday make sense?

“[Ortiz] has a keen awareness that he could potentially keep others from flourishing with the potential thought and the question always being there,” Farrell said. “Well, he is around, is he ever coming back? All the things that I think have been reported on to a certain extent. I think David's keen awareness of himself and how a team works, I wouldn't be surprised if that is at the root of his decision to keep the space that he's done.”

But that decision seems flawed. No one in that room should be hurt or confused by Ortiz coming by occasionally — absolutely not now that the jersey’s hanging. (A little speculation he could un-retire was throwing the Sox off their game? Really?) 

If anything, the team should find comfort in seeing such an important, charismatic man with ties to the group.

Ortiz is special. The team has adapted well without him. If those are facts, the need for Ortiz to stay away doesn’t make sense.

Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

Ramirez, Leon homer, Red Sox beat Angels 9-4 on Papi's night

BOSTON - David Ortiz became one of the most celebrated players in Red Sox history during his storied 14-year run in Boston.

On the night he returned to Fenway to have his No. 34 take its place among the franchise's other legends, his former teammates did their part to make sure it was a memorable one.

Hanley Ramirez and Sandy Leon hit two-run homers and the Boston Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Angels 9-4 on Friday to cap a night in which Ortiz's number became the latest retired at Fenway Park.

It was the 250th career home run for Ramirez, a good friend of Ortiz who was also born in the Dominican Republic. Leon finished with three hits and four RBIs.

Ramirez said he played with Ortiz on his mind.

"He's my mentor, my big brother. He's everything," Ramirez said. "Today when I saw him on the field crying, it made me cry."

He said his home run was in Big Papi's honor.

"Definitely, definitely, definitely," he said. "I was going to do his thing (pointing his hands in the air) but I forgot."

The homers helped provide a nice cushion for Rick Porcello (4-9), who gave up four runs and struck out eight in 6 1/3 innings to earn the victory. It was the 13th straight start Porcello has gone at least six innings.

"It was vintage Porcello," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "A couple of pitches that cut his night short, but he was crisp throughout."

This could serve as a needed confidence boost for Porcello, who had been 0-4 with a 7.92 ERA in his previous five starts, allowing 47 hits and 27 earned runs.

He had command of his pitches early, holding the Angels scoreless until the fourth, when a catching error by Leon at home allowed Albert Pujols to cross the plate.

Porcello said he isn't sure if he has completely turned a corner yet after his slow start, but he has felt better in his recent starts.

"Today was a step in the right direction," he said.

Alex Meyer (3-4) allowed five runs and five hits in 3 1/3 innings.

Los Angeles scored three runs in the seventh, but cooled off after Porcello left.

Boston got out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning, scoring on an RBI double by Xander Bogaerts and then getting two more runs off wild pitches by Meyer.

Ramirez gave Porcello a 5-1 lead in the fourth with his two-run shot to right field.