Jarrod Saltalamacchia is over his broken heart at being discarded by the Red Sox and now thriving in his new environment in Miami, not only hitting well, but overseeing one of the most talented young pitching staffs in baseball.
“It’s been fun being back home and just being a part of this team and watching us grow together,” Saltalamacchia said. “I think last year the guys were saying here that we really weren’t a team and now it seems we’re coming together. We have each other’s back. We look out for each other. We win together and we lose together. We know what we have to do to get better as a team.”
Saltalamacchia has fulfilled Marlins GM Dan Jennings’s dreams of what he wanted when he devoted $21 million over three years to the man they call Salty. The Red Sox’ offer didn’t even guarantee him two years.
So after the bids came in (Boston made the lowest offer), Saltalamacchia chose to go back closer to his West Palm Beach-area home.
Jennings has found a leader, a middle of the order hitter, an overseer of his young staff. He’s brought a winning attitude to the clubhouse, an example of someone who has endured bad times and lifted himself up to become a good player.
Saltalamacchia is hitting .310 and leads all catchers with six home runs and a 1.011 OPS (through Friday’s games). He’s hit well at Marlins Park, but the most encouraging thing is he’s been able to turn his splits around righthanded (.320 in 25 at-bats; he hit .218 in 119 at-bats last season).
“I think it’s just from steady work,” Saltalamacchia said. “In Boston it was just ‘OK, lefthander is out there, I’m sitting.’ The more lefties you see the better you’re going to be. I’m a natural righthanded hitter so it was always frustrating to have to sit. But I’m getting that opportunity now.”
Saltalamacchia is catching the best young pitcher in baseball in Jose Fernandez and is in a lineup with one of the best young hitters in Giancarlo Stanton.
“Jose is special,” Saltalamacchia said. “He has four pitches he commands. It doesn’t hurt that he throws 98 and he has this slider that’s a power slider. Not your typical slider. He can throw any pitch any time for a strike.”
Asked if there was any Red Sox pitcher even close, he said, “Clay Buchholz obviously has command of four pitches, but he doesn’t throw 98, so there really isn’t anyone quite like him.”
On Stanton, Saltalamacchia said, “You just see things that just make you shake your head. He can take a changeup on the outside corner and muscle it over the right field wall for a home run. But he’s more than just a slugger. He’s a hitter. He’s just a really talented player. Very exciting to watch all aspects of his game.”
Saltalamacchia feels the respect of teammates because of who he is and where he’s been.
“I never came in here and said, ‘Hey look at me I won a championship, therefore I know more than you.’ I just wanted to come in and bring some of that experience in this room and if guys wanted to ask me about things I was going to be more than willing to share things with them. And that’s what has happened. You get a lot of questions about how things were done in Boston and in a winning environment. I think guys really wanted that here and we’re developing that now.”
The Marlins are in a tough division with the Braves and the Nationals, two talented teams. The Mets have been much better than advertised and the Phillies, though an older team perhaps trending the wrong way, still have veteran players who can dial it up.
The Marlins have their own issues.
They constantly seek credibility in their market. They have the massive issue of Stanton’s future contract hanging over them (he is arbitration eligible in 2015).
The Marlins have a young outfield led by the 24-year-old Stanton (8 homers, 33 RBIs, .879 OPS), 22-year-old Christian Yelich (.289, 9 RBIs), and 23-year-old Marcell Ozuna (.287, 4 homers, 16 RBIs). And there’s 25-year-old shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria (hitting .280), whom the Blue Jays gave up in the megadeal for shortstop Jose Reyes and pitchers Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson (among others).
Saltalamacchia is just trying to learn his pitchers. Fernandez (4-1 with a 1.59 ERA through Friday), is easy. The 2013 National League Rookie of the Year is now a Cy Young candidate.
Saltalamacchia believes 27-year old righty Tom Koehler (3-2, 2.41 ERA) is a dead ringer for John Lackey.
Henderson Alvarez, 24, also acquired in the Blue Jays deal, is 1-2 with a 3.28 ERA. Nathan Eovaldi, 24, is 2-1 with a 2.58 ERA, and veteran Kevin Slowey, formerly of the Twins, rounds out the rotation.
“It’s different than what I’ve been used to with the Red Sox,” Saltalamacchia said. “I try to prepare the same way I did in Boston, but it’s different going over a scouting report with a veteran pitcher than a younger pitcher.’’
Saltalamacchia believes he can make a difference to a team with the best young pitcher and arguably the best young hitter in the National League.
“There’s a lot of talent and there’s going to be ups and downs, but it’s exciting to see what this team could be. I think there’s a great attitude in here. Guys believe in themselves,” Saltalamacchia said.
Boras clients Drew, Morales still waiting
Alex Ochoa has overseen the workouts of Kendrys Morales and Stephen Drew as well as veteran righty Freddy Garcia at the Scott Boras Training Institute in Miami Gardens.
Slowly but surely, the Gang of Three has broken up.
Garcia signed to play in Taiwan and is the highest-paid player in the league.
Ochoa said Drew left and has settled at Valdosta State in Georgia near his home, where he works out with the university’s baseball team.
Morales has remained in Miami and has been scouted by the Brewers, Orioles, and Rangers, according to Ochoa. Ochoa says both players wouldn’t need much time to get ready to help a team.
“Both are in excellent shape and in excellent baseball shape,” Ochoa said. “We had structured workouts, spring training-like workouts. When Freddy was here he was throwing to them and I know Stephen has been in some game conditions since he left here.”
Ochoa, who was Bobby Valentine’s first base coach with the Sox in 2012, said, “This has been a unique situation for everyone. Nobody has ever gone through this, but I think the players handled it so well. Scott [Boras] has kept them informed every step of the way. He’s given them a lot of information and I believe the players have taken that and it’s kept them going.
“Both are talented players who can help teams and I think they both realize that sooner or later they’re going to get signed and play baseball again.”
Drew turned down a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer with the Red Sox. With Xander Bogaerts showing average ability at shortstop, the team has missed the Drew’s steady play and clutch hitting.
Boras has maintained that both players could stay out past June, when the amateur draft takes place, creating a non-compensation issue. That would mean the Red Sox would fail to get a draft pick for losing Drew.
Apropos of nothing
1. Things that may never happen again: In 1972, Belmont High School knuckleballer Wilbur Wood made 49 starts for the White Sox. From 1971-74, Wood won 22, 24, 24, and 20 games. He pitched more than 320 innings in each of those years, with a career-high 376⅔ innings in ’72. Wood, who started his career with the Red Sox, was 164-156 with a 3.24 ERA in his 17-year career.
2. Spink Award winning writer Paul Hagen made a great case for the Veterans Committee to consider former Phillies first baseman Dick Allen for the Hall of Fame. I’d like to make the same pitch for Luis Tiant. It would be nice to see Pedro Martinez and Tiant go into the Hall of Fame together.
3. Gary DiSarcina, who resides in Plymouth, feels at home in Anaheim as the Angels third base coach after 12 years with the franchise as a player. He believes the Angels are hitting well and the starting pitching has been good, but they are missing Josh Hamilton. “Josh was our best hitter the first two weeks of the season. When we get him back, whenever that might be, it’s going to be like we’ve made a major trade deadline acquisition. He was hitting the ball to all fields and everyone was excited about his approach.” DiSarcina, who was Pawtucket’s manager in 2013, said the organization is really excited about Albert Pujols. “Albert is Albert again,” he said. “He’s hit nine homers and all of them have been moonshots.”
4. The Red Sox need to stop complaining about the replay system. It’s here. End of story.
5. Bill Arnold notes that 96-year-old Hall-of-Fame second baseman Bobby Doerr, who debuted with the Red Sox in 1937, is the sole surviving major leaguer who broke into the majors in the 1930s.
6. Tommy Harper, one of the classiest men in the Red Sox organization, noted how happy he was for Bob Stanley finally landing a big league coaching job — the Blue Jays as bullpen coach — after toiling in the minors for years (he helped Matt Cain develop in the Giants’ system). “He was great to everyone as a player. He took care of the coaches. He would see me eating in the hotel restaurant and he would say, ‘I got this Harp.’ He never forgot where he came from and how grateful he was to make the money he did as a major leaguer.”
7. The Rockies are only team in baseball that has not made a waiver claim the last two years. The last Rockies waiver claim was Adam Ottavino from St. Louis.
8. Here’s a shout out to Oakland A’s clubhouse manager Steve Vucinich, who has been with the team since 1968. That’s 46 years. Not many can claim that. And, I thought it apropos to mention him here since he’s a loyal reader of Apropos of nothing.
Updates on nine
1. Mark Mulder, LHP — Mulder, 36, came out of his boot and continues to rehab his torn Achilles’. He was trying to make a comeback in spring training with the Angels after an almost six-year layoff when he suffered a freak Achilles’ injury doing agility drills. Mulder, who is an ESPN analyst, will likely return there this season. As far as his baseball career, “I think I absolutely would [come back] if this Achilles’ comes back fine, but I still have a long way to go before I know that,” he said.
2. Ike Davis, 1B, Pirates — Davis’s play since his trade from the Mets has not deterred the Pirates organization from trying to acquire a first baseman. The Pirates don’t believe signing Kendrys Morales is the answer, believing he wouldn’t hold up playing every day and that he should be a DH.
3. Gregory Polanco, RF, Indianapolis (Triple A) — The Pirates haven’t received a lot out of right field and are counting the days when this top prospect will man the position. Polanco is hitting .398 with 4 homers and 25 RBIs and a 1.082 OPS (through Friday). He’s got a pretty good hitting coach in Medford’s Mike Pagliarulo.
4. Joel Hanrahan, RHP, Tigers — Even with Edward Mujica’s poor start, Hanrahan decided not to return to the Red Sox, feeling the Tigers provided him the best shot at being a closer down the road (Tigers closer Joe Nathan is 39). Hanrahan also received a $1 million salary. It appears Hanrahan will need about a month to get back into playing mode, needing to go through his own version of spring training.
5. Ken Giles, RHP, Reading — Giles remains the future closer hope for the Phillies with a 100-miles-per-hour fastball. He ended April with a 1.38 ERA, walked four, and struck out 25 batters in 13 innings in Double-A Reading. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro told reporters he likely would not promote Giles to the majors, but possibly to Triple A soon. A lot of baseball people felt Hanrahan would have been a good fit, but the Phillies didn’t step up.
6. Prince Fielder, 1B, Texas — Looked at some of those preseason predictions and kept seeing Fielder’s name associated with the 2014 AL MVP. If that happens he’d have come a long way. There’s major concern about the big first baseman who is owed $24 million per season through 2020. Fielder, who had a bad second half in Detroit last season, had his worst month (April) with a .206 average. In his last 131 games and the postseason, he’s hit 15 homers with 64 RBIs with a .392 slugging percentage. He’s looked lost at the plate for a while now.
7. Byron Buxton, OF, Twins — Generally regarded as the top positional prospect in baseball, Buxton hasn’t played an inning because of a strained left wrist. Coupled with third base prospect Miguel Sano’s season-ending Tommy John surgery, the Twins’ top two positional prospects will get very limited time on the field in 2014. Both were scheduled to be in Double-A New Britain. Buxton will likely have to start lower to rehab before coming back to Double A. The Twins’ hope was to have a few of the top positional prospects playing together so they can all come up in a couple of years.
8. Chase Headley, 3B, Padres — There’s still the belief Headley will remain one of the top trading chips at the deadline if he can remain healthy. By that time, teams (Yankees?) will be looking for a major piece for their lineup, and if it happens to be at a corner infield spot, even better. The Padres have not been able to sign Headley to a long-term deal and may run out of patience.
9. Mark Buehrle, LHP, Blue Jays — Scouts are already indicating the Blue Jays will be a major team to pay attention to at the trading deadline. If they start fading, scouts view Buehrle as a top target of contending teams. There’s also Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to consider, but Buehrle, given his ability to pitch in either league at a high level and to work quickly and effectively, will be valued.
From the Bill Chuck files: Joey Votto is the only player whose OBP has been over .400 each of the last five seasons and is well on his way to his sixth (.446 through Friday) . . . Matt Kemp and Jonny Gomes ended April with 942 career strikeouts . . . The major league average is 3.85 pitches per plate appearance; the Twins have seen the most, averaging 4.20, followed by the Red Sox at 4.11 . . . Happy 64th birthday, Jack “Home Run” Baker, who hit one major league homer, in 1976.
More baseball coverage:firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.