The main man behind the plate again this year for the Sox will be Jarrod Salatalamacchia (hereinafter “Salty” because I just don’t want to keep typing his lengthy name). He started 103 games last year, but still had to live in Varitek’s shadow. In 2012, the spotlight is all Salty’s – well sorta. The #1 catching job will be his as long as he improves on his 2011 season. If he can’t then he won’t be able to fend of the hard charging Ryan Lavarnway.
So, what can we expect of Salty this year? Here are the predicted lines from Baseball Prospectus, Shandler and ZIPS:
- BP: .247/.313/.415, 292 PA, 9 HR, and 34 RBI
- Shandler: .232/.289/.430, 422 AB, 18 HR and 58 RBI
- ZIPS: .228/.294/.410, 364 PA, 12 HR and 44 RBI
There is not a lot of difference between these three systems for Salty other then in plate appearances. And, if this is Salty’s line at the end of the year, I suggest that he will have lost a lot of playing time to Shoppach and more likely Lavarnway.
A bit of history and context for Salty. He just recently signed a one year deal with the Sox (avoiding arbitration) for $2.5 million. This is a nice jump in pay from his 2011 salary of $750,000. He has one more year of arbitration eligibility until his free agent season comes up in 2014. He is, however, making nowhere near what he and probably others expected of him when he was traded to the Rangers in 2007 in a deal for Mark Teixeira. When Salty was acquired by the Rangers from the Braves he was seen as the centerpiece player. Five years later though, he is not the Brian McCann of the Red Sox and instead must look in the bathroom mirror every morning at the ever growing image of Ryan Lavarnway. In the past five years, the other parts of the Teixeira trade (Beau Jones, Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz and Matt Harrison) have had, with the exception of Jones, a much larger impact for their teams, had more successful starts to their careers and have gone on to play in two World Series match ups. Andrus signed a 3 year deal worth 14.4 million, Feliz is still pre-arbitraion eligible and not up for free agency until 2016 but Feliz’s switch to the rotation, if it works, will most likely lead to a big payday in 2013, and Harrison avoided arbitration with a 1 year deal for 2.95 million. Five years ago, most people would have thought that Salty would be a part of the Rangers’ core.
Instead, Salty was traded to the Sox for three low level prospects and some cash. Salty’s value has fallen quite a bit. I am sure the Sox were hoping they’d strike lightning again by trading for a catcher. But, this was no Heatcliff Slocumb deal. It was the acquisition of a failed prospect. Ironically though, Salty and Varitek had somewhat similar lines in their age 26 seasons, with Varitek showing a bit more plate discipline and Salty more power.
- Varitek: .253/.309/.482 in 247 PA with 7 HRs
- Salty: .235/.288/.450 in 386 PA with 16 HRs
Perhaps Salty will make some solid improvement this year in his plate discipline and keep his power. Salty’s isolated power (ISO) was way below Mike Napoli’s otherworldly .312, but right in line with JP Arencibia (.219), Carlos Santana (.217), and Alex Avila (.211). Not a bad group to be in. Do we underestimate the value of Salty? If he can follow Varitek’s age 27 season (.269/.330/.482 with 20 HRs), he could potentially hold off Lavarnway, keep his job and plan for a more financially secure retirement.
If the prognosticators at BP, Shandler, and ZIPS, however, are close in their predictions, then Salty will most likely be looking for another gig in 2013 because Lavarnway will have supplanted him as the number one catcher. Salty’s key for success is a tad better plate discipline. If he succeeds with that, he will be on his way and the Red Sox will be in the pleasant position of having two catchers.