LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Having moved to enhance their bullpen (with Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop) and replace incumbent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia with A.J. Pierzynski, the Red Sox can use these Winter Meetings to focus on something extraordinary.
They can pursue a Matt Kemp deal, or at least study his medical reports to see if Kemp could again become the devastating hitter he was before his injuries. They can pursue a huge deal for Giancarlo Stanton, even if the Marlins won’t listen.
They can be “daring”, as general manager Ben Cherington said earlier this offseason.
It’s a question of how daring they want to be.
Having lost Saltalamacchia is not something the Sox are fretting about. He was never in their long-term plans, and they believe with Pierzynski they have made up for the loss offensively and don’t believe they’ll lose much, if anything, on the defensive side.
When players called manager John Farrell a couple of weeks back concerned that the team may not re-sign any of its free agents, thus meaning the World Series-winning team would look far different next season, Saltalamacchia’s name certainly came up, because he was one of the more popular players on the team.
The pitchers enjoyed working with him. He was an asset in the clubhouse, a team player through and through. He was a gem in the community who did a lot of work behind the scenes for many charities. But he had a rough World Series, and he sat the final three games in favor of David Ross when his hitting slumped.
Of the team’s four free agents, Jacoby Ellsbury went to the Yankees on a seven-year, $153 million deal and Saltalamacchia to the Marlins for three years and $21 million after both were made offers by the Red Sox that they could only refuse. The Sox always knew they were going to lose Ellsbury.
Mike Napoli re-signed for two years at $32 million, and Stephen Drew’s situation has yet to be resolved.
The Sox clearly believed that even with Saltalamacchia’s improvement defensively, and offensively, he wasn’t someone they wanted to commit to. So they offered two years, but at salaries he chose not to accept.
“On my side of it, I was a little bit [disappointed],” said Saltalamacchia, who was introduced by the Marlins at a news conference at these meetings Monday flanked by his wife and three daughters. Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, GM Dan Jennings, and president Michael Hill also were present.
“But at the same time, they’re in a different situation,” Saltalamacchia continued about the Red Sox. “I’m not in all the meetings. I don’t know what their plans are in the future. I didn’t see a lot of the players besides [those] up in the big league level. So I understand there’s a lot of thought process that goes into it and a lot of different things. I wasn’t hurt by it.
“I’m in a good place, so at the end of the day, that’s kind of what’s important.”
There was obviously a strain between Saltalamacchia and Farrell, as the two did not speak after the parade. The catcher finally had a talk with Cherington not long before signing with Miami.
“It wasn’t about anything in the future,” said Saltalamacchia. “It was just mainly about what I’ve done since I’ve been here and how proud he was of me. And it was kind of the same for him. I thanked him for giving me the opportunity that I wasn’t getting in Texas. They gave me the opportunity and brought me over here and took a chance on me, and I think it paid off for both sides.”
During the summer, Saltalamacchia had expressed his desire to be a Red Sox his entire career and was willing to take a hometown discount. The place he landed was Miami, not far from his West Palm Beach-area home.
The Red Sox wanted to maintain flexibility to allow their top prospects to develop a little bit longer. They believed the upside on Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart was higher than what Saltalamacchia would give them.
The one area in which losing him hurts is continuity with the pitching staff. Saltalamacchia finally had reached the point where the staff trusted him. There were few complaints, if any, about his game calling. John Lackey was a huge fan. Farrell eventually teamed up Jon Lester with Ross.
The Red Sox feel they will maintain that continuity with Ross, and with Pierzynski being a veteran it shouldn’t take him long to get to know the staff. He already has a history with Jake Peavy from Chicago. And with his former bullpen coach, Juan Nieves, here, the transition shouldn’t be too rocky.
The Red Sox did pursue Brian McCann — yes, that move would have been classified as daring — and were willing to scrap their plan to bring up younger catchers if they could have landed him. They also offered a two-year deal to Carlos Ruiz. So they clearly were looking to move on from Saltalamacchia.
Saltalamacchia also drew interest from the Twins, but those talks never got too involved.
Time will tell whether the Red Sox made the right decision.
Sometimes a GM tinkers too much. Sometimes a GM doesn’t do enough to reinvent the team.
The Red Sox can walk out the doors at the Swan and Dolphin Thursday knowing they have a team that can compete for another championship while introducing Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field.
To have two rookies starting up the middle in a big-market city that has just won a championship would also be daring, but is a risk they may be willing to take, if other situations like the Kemp one don’t work out.
The players hate to see mainstays such as Saltalamacchia and Ellsbury leave, but the Red Sox can be bold these days. They can take a chance. They can do something daring. Or they can do nothing else. Nice spot to be in.