The Redsox have a big long-term decision to make at catcher next season. With Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s contract coming to the end, it has left the door wide open for that position to be filled.
They currently are pursuing four options: overpay for Saltalamacchia, sign McCan to a long term deal, sign aging free agent Pierzynski, or don’t sign anybody (in the offseason) and trust the Lavarnway and Ross tandem next season.
1. Sign Saltalamacchia
Last season Jarrod Saltalamacchia showed he was a very good major league catcher. He was average defensively, but showed he had a serviceable bat, which is very rare for the position. He came off his best season this past year hitting .273/.338/.466 with 14 home runs and 65 RBIs.
With that being said, he was largely benched during the playoffs in favor of David Ross. Ross was the preferred backstop for Lester and also saw a lot of time catching Buchholz and Lackey. Although he is not as strong offensively, Farrell obviously felt the pitchers were more comfortable with Ross behind the plate rather than Salty, despite his offensive upside.
If the Redsox were to bring back Salty, it would probably be in a tandem role with Ross (Ross Catches 60 games, Salty 100). Saltalamachia appears to have high value on the free-agent market, and I do not see the Redsox bringing back Salty at $12+ million on a one-year deal. I also do not see them signing him to a long-term deal (more than three years) with the organizational depth they have at the position.
2. Sign Brian McCann
McCann is definitely the most sought out free agent catcher on the market. Because of this, the only way the Redsox could acquire him is through a long-term deal. There have been some rumors his next contract is worth over 100 million (5 to 6 years).
McCann over the course of his career has shown he is a very strong hitter. He has a career stat line of .277/.350/.473.
With that being said, McCann is 30 years old and may only be a serviceable everyday catcher for maybe four of those years then would probably have to make a part-time move to DH. And, he would not be much of an upgrade over Saltalamacchia. Overall, with David Ross expected to catch a large amount of games, I do not see the Sox signing McCann.
3. Sign AJ Pierzynski
Nobody really knows what it is going to take to sign Pierzynski. Last year, he signed a one-year deal with the Rangers worth 7.5 million dollars. However, he once again proved he is a strong offensive catcher hitting .272/.279/.425. His average and power is comparable to Salty, but he is a much less patient hitter. In 134 games, he walked just 11 times.
Last season he caught 119 games, but at age 37, nobody knows if he can catch over 100 games for a 14 consecutive season. It is also worth questioning how motivated he will be to learn the pitching staff, since if he joined the Sox, it would be his third teams in three years.
Overall, if the Redsox decided to sign Pierzynski, it is because he is a cheaper, short-term option to Saltalamacchia. By signing him, it would allow the team to groom Lavarnway one more year. However, Pierzynski’s aggressive hitting does not fit well in the Redsox offense, and as he ages, fans should expect to see some declines. It is a tough call as to whether the Sox should sign him.
4. Don’t sign anybody
The Redsox currently have two catcher on the roster who are serviceable MLB players. One of those is David Ross, who may be among one of the best catcher at working with a pitching staff. The other is former top prospect Ryan Lavarnway.
The Redsox obviously have a lot of confidence in David Ross. He continually caught for Lester, Lackey, and Buchholz and had more playing time in the World Series than Jarrod Saltalamacchia. With all that being said at 36, he couldn’t be relied on to catch more than 70 games this season and throughout his career has been seen as a poor offensive hitter.
The Redsox would have to look for another catcher to catch the other 90 games. That guy would most likely be Ryan Larvarnway. Lavarnway just two years ago was seen an outstanding prospect with a lot of offensive potential, but he has since panned out. He has lost some power, hitting just four home runs in 75 games while also hitting just .250/.346/.350 in AAA.
In 2012 however, he was named best defensive catcher in the International League by Baseball America (AP), and he is only 25 years old. There is still some hope with Lavarnway, but he is unlikely to be ready to be an everyday catcher on a championship team. If it turns out he is not ready, the team could always make a trade or a free agent signing during the season.
Who should it be?
After analyzing all four options, the Redsox should choose to either re-sign Saltalamacchia to a three-year deal (preferably) or stay with the in house option.
With Saltalamacchia, at least they know what they are going to get out of him—a good offensive catcher who can hold his own defensively. But, with a low number of good free agent catchers on the market, he will have a high price for a guy who will be splitting time with David Ross.
With the in-house option, they would not have to overpay for a catcher in free agency who would most likely be splitting a lot of time with Ross anyway. Ryan Lavarnway however is a huge question mark. His offensive statistics have been trending downward despite him getting closer to his prime. But he did used to be thought of as the catcher of the future and can still be serviceable if given the chance.
McCann has shown to be a good offensive and defensive catcher, but at age 30, it would not make a lot of sense for the Redsox to sign him to a long-term deal. His offensive numbers show would not even be too much of an upgrade over Salty. And Peirzynski would not be a bad option, but his lack of patience at the plate is a concerning as well as his age.
If the Redsox feel Larvarnway is ready to handle the pitching staff, they should go with the fourth option. They could then use the money they save at the position to either re-sign Drew, Napoli, or Ellsbury, or sign a free agent like Beltran—which would give the team more of a boost than trying to bring in a catcher who likely will not be much of an upgrade over Salty.