ORLANDO — When the Twins announced Monday that they will switch Joe Mauer to first base in an effort to avoid the concussions he has sustained while catching, it had to be music to Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s ears.
Just another team that could be in the mix now for the free agent catcher. And the Twins are interested, according to a team source.
Saltalamacchia needs more of them as he sorts through free agency. If anyone deserves a payday, it is Saltalamacchia, who has put in incredibly hard work to get to the point where he is today.
Because he’s such a big-bodied catcher, he’ll never be the most fluid guy. He’ll always have some throwing issues, but for the most part, Saltalamacchia has at least begun to live up to the expectations so many had for him when he was in the Braves and then Rangers organizations.
The Red Sox did not make him a qualifying offer, so he will be out there in the open market, with no compensation needed to sign him. This is no small fact. Teams such as the Twins know they don’t have to forfeit a draft pick to sign him.
Why it hasn’t worked out with the Red Sox is anyone’s guess.
Was it the World Series, when he made a costly throwing error on the famed obstruction play? Or was it that he didn’t hit when it counted most, in the postseason? During the regular season, he hit 40 doubles, elevated his batting average to .273, and had an .804 OPS. Among guys considered full-time catchers, only Mauer (.880), Yadier Molina (.836), Carlos Santana (.832), and Buster Posey (.821) had a better OPS.
Sox general manager Ben Cherington reiterated Monday night that the team has continued dialogue with Saltalamacchia, but said the catching market could be intriguing.
“There are a bunch of teams that seemingly have a need or a potential need and there are a bunch of players out there. I think it’s one of the more interesting positions to watch this offseason. There’s more than likely to be activity and potential for trades, too, and not just free agency. It’s obviously a position where we may well look to do something with. We’re going to keep talking about all the available options.”
There were few complaints from pitchers about throwing to Saltalamacchia, who really improved in all phases, from game-calling to throwing to overall defense.
While there were 89 steals off of him (most in the majors) and only 24 caught stealing, that was also a reflection of how poorly Red Sox pitchers held runners.
One of the biggest aspects of the Saltalamacchia experience is that he brings a winning attitude to a clubhouse. He’s all in when it comes to team camaraderie.
Any team would value someone like that.
Take the Blue Jays. They are trying to upgrade from J.P. Arencibia, and Saltalmacchia would make perfect sense for them. They have a lot of players who just don’t get it. They need an infusion of winning players, which Saltalamacchia would be.
If you look at the Yankees, they could use a catcher who can switch-hit but be especially effective from the left side — perfect for the short porch in right field. They also could use a lower-in-the-order hitter with pop who could make a difference calling a game (even though the Yankees likely would have better defensive catchers behind him).
If the Phillies do not re-sign Carlos Ruiz, Saltalamacchia’s power threat, especially in a hitter’s park like Citizens Bank Park, could be enticing.
Would he be a fit in Detroit, where Alex Avila has been beaten up physically behind the plate?
There are Twins officials who like Saltalamacchia’s game. But he won’t be the only catcher they consider.
Why not the Red Sox? They have reached out to Saltalamacchia, 28, about bringing him back, but for now it seems like a lukewarm gesture.
The Saltalamacchia-David Ross platoon seemed to work out fine. But the Red Sox do have catching prospects they must soon make decisions on. Is Ryan Lavarnway really going to go back for another year of Triple A? Is Christian Vazquez really close to being a major league catcher with a great arm, and does he project as a starter? Is Blake Swihart a couple of years away from being a starting catcher in the big leagues?
And are the Red Sox considering veteran Brian McCann, who would be a big-time offensive upgrade, though an expensive one? Are they content to bring in a lefthanded complement to Ross, like A.J. Pierzynski, for a year or two? Or would they consider Ruiz or dealing for the Reds’ Ryan Hanigan or the Angels’ Chris Iannetta?
It is very early in the process, and nothing says the Red Sox won’t re-sign Saltalamacchia.
He said earlier this season that he wanted nothing more than to remain with the Red Sox and sign a long-term deal. He thought he had done enough to earn that.
But business is business. The Red Sox say they are still considering him, but they have checked on other catchers.
But it appears that Saltalamacchia will have his share of suitors.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.