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David Ross addition gives Red Sox plenty of flexibility

Nov 10, 2012, 9:48 PM EDT

Jarrod Saltalamacchia AP

The Red Sox are likely keeping an open mind about trading Jarrod Saltalamacchia, their strikeout-prone starting catcher, after adding David Ross on a two-year, $6.2 million contract Saturday.

Ross was briefly a member of the Red Sox back in 2008, going 1-for-8 for the club. He finished that season with Boston after the Reds cut him — Dusty Baker preferred Paul Bako. Paul Bako! — and then opened his four-year tenure with the Braves in 2009.

Ross, who has never started more than 98 games in his career, isn’t likely to become a starting catcher at age 36, but he’ll be a productive part of a job-sharing situation, perhaps in tandem with Saltalamacchia.

And Salty, for what it’s worth, does pair up better with Ross than Boston’s other catching option, Ryan Lavarnway. Saltalamacchia, a switch-hitter, has a career .591 OPS against lefties, compared to a .774 mark against righties. A platoon could work swimmingly for Boston.

Still, if the Red Sox have doubts about Saltalamacchia’s long-term role, it’d be a good idea to trade him and get something in return before he becomes a free agent next winter.  At 27 and still potentially on the upswing of his career, Salty could be considered more attractive to catcher-needy teams than free agents Russell Martin and A.J. Pierzynski. Mike Napoli is out there, too, but it doesn’t look like he’s being viewed as a full-time catcher.

So, the Red Sox have three ways they could play this:

1. Commit to Salty, perhaps signing him to a three-year extension in the $20 million range, and go with a Salty-Ross platoon. Lavarnway would become trade bait in that scenario, though it’s unlikely that he’d fetch as much as Salty.

2. Trade Salty and have Ross and Lavarnway split time. It’d likely be a step back for 2013. Lavarnway is never going to be a great defensive catcher, and he also failed to impress offensively last season, hitting .157/.211/.248 in 153 at-bats. On the other hand, he’s 25 and worthy of a shot, given the way that he has improved defensively.

3. Trade Salty and sign Napoli to create a three-headed, catching-first base monster. The Red Sox need a first baseman anyway. Sign Napoli with the idea that he’ll catch once a week initially and then enhance his role back there if Lavarnway doesn’t work out. Having a flexible first base situation would be nice anyway, since it’d allow David Ortiz to play there in interleague games in NL parks.

I imagine they’ll at least investigate possibility No. 3. It’s too early to make any sort of definitive call, but it doesn’t look like the market for Napoli will be all that strong, and since the Rangers didn’t tender him a $13.3 million offer, he wouldn’t cost the Red Sox a draft pick.

  1. Carl Hancock - Nov 10, 2012 at 10:08 PM

    A 2 year deal for over 6 million for a 36 year old backup catcher who’s never been a starter and doesn’t project as one going forward? Someone please stop the insanity. I’m surprised it wasn’t the Dodgers that signed him.

    • dan1111 - Nov 11, 2012 at 5:04 AM

      Catchers who can hit are always valuable, and Ross is a better hitter than the average MLB starting catcher. I think this is a good deal for the Sox, especially if they don’t want to commit to Saltalamacchia.

  2. Chip Caray's Eyebrows - Nov 10, 2012 at 11:32 PM

    Ross is worth every penny of that deal. Sad to see him leaving Atlanta, but wish him luck going forward.

  3. uyf1950 - Nov 11, 2012 at 5:41 AM

    The article begins by saying that Salty is “strikeout prone”. but if you check David Ross’s 2012 numbers he strikes out at the same rate as Salty. Both about 1 K per 2.9 AB’s, so if Salty is strikeout prone what does that make Ross.
    While I still think it’s a good signing for the Sox I also believe it’s a bit of an overpay for a backup catcher who will be 36 at the start the 2013 season.

    • dan1111 - Nov 11, 2012 at 7:55 AM

      Ross only played 62 games last season. If you look at their career stats, Ross has a 26% strikeout percentage compared to 29% for Saltalamacchia. Also, not all strikeouts are equal. Some hitters strike out because they are patient and are willing to go deep in the count; others just have a bad approach at the plate. Saltalamacchia’s much higher K/BB ratio suggests that his strikeouts are “worse” than Ross’s.

      Yes, they both strike out a lot. But there is room to make a distinction between them.

      • uyf1950 - Nov 11, 2012 at 10:44 AM

        Dan, I’m tempted to believe at least a portion of Ross’s higher walk rate is directly related to the fact that he played in the NL and batted 8th over 50% of the time. A league where there is no DH and the pitcher bats 9th probably led to Ross walking more then a similar batter in the American League batting 8th where there is a DH rule. So I guess if I can quote you while all strikeouts are not equal, neither are all walks.

      • dan1111 - Nov 11, 2012 at 3:50 PM

        @uyf, that is a very good point about the walks, which I hadn’t considered. I wonder if anyone has studied how large the effect of batting 8th in the NL is.

  4. doublezero74 - Nov 11, 2012 at 7:30 AM

    Say salty one more time

  5. kibogato - Nov 11, 2012 at 7:47 AM

    When did he leave Van Halen?

  6. proudlycanadian - Nov 11, 2012 at 9:28 AM

    A decent signing by the Red Sox, but it will not get them back in the playoffs. A combination of Ross and Napoli would not get them back in the playoffs either. Red Sox fans are going to need some patience during the next few years.

  7. edelmanfanclub - Nov 11, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    wow people born in 1977 are 36 next year? Time goes by fast. Anyways, quick look at the numbers

    Salty: .222/.288/.454 95 OPS+ .319 wOBA 2.0 WAR (448 PA)
    Ross .256/.321/.449 105 OPS+ .334 wOBA 1.5 WAR (196 PA)

    About the same K% and BB%, the thing is Ross is going to continue to be a back up and get something like 150-200 PA while Lavarnway who has never batted below .280 and never had a wOBA below .360 in the minors (AA and above) will get a shot at extended playing time instead of a platoon. They’ll see what they have in him this year and flip Salty (coming off a season where is ISO is .232 and he hit 25 HR) for a pitcher or an OF.

  8. kylecleric - Nov 11, 2012 at 1:05 PM

    “Lavarnway would become trade bait in that scenario, though it’s unlikely that he’d fetch as much as Salty.”

    People who say stupid things like this should not have a public platform.

  9. hushbrother - Nov 11, 2012 at 3:35 PM

    Lavarnway can’t hit, plain and simple. He doesn’t belong in the major leagues. Salty and Ross will platoon and be ok.

    • kylecleric - Nov 11, 2012 at 8:08 PM

      wanna bet, hushbrother

  10. jkaflagg - Nov 11, 2012 at 11:47 PM

    Most of the conversation seems to revolve around the bats of these players – can any of them handle a pitching staff ? I remember that Ross was a catching convert by the Dodgers several years back and was considered mostly a bat; and have not heard much about the defensive skills of Salty & Lavarnway.

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