A former top prospect and the piece of cheese used to lure away Mark Teixeira from the Rangers, Jarrod Saltalamacchia had failed to impress in numerous stints at the big league level. When the Red Sox traded two herrings and a bucket of dirt for Salty! last year, it was widely viewed as a throw away trade, the pickup of of a failed player.
Here's what Christina Kahrl then of Baseball Prospectus had to say about the Red Sox acquisition of Salty! at the time:
Less happy is the fact that the former blue-chip receiver's hitting just .244/.326/.445 at Triple-A... He's struggled throwing to the bases as well as the mound, nabbing just 15 percent of stolen-base attempts, and not because he's deterring the running game to the point the opponents are only taking high-percentage opportunities. For all that, and for all of the disappointment associated with his name from the last three years, it's important to note that he is just 25 years old. The up side is obviously that Boston may have finally found its long-term answer... The down side is that they get to be Salty's latest frustrated employer.
To sum up, he wasn't hitting well and wasn't throwing well, but hey, he's not washed up yet. That's about as positive a view as you'll find.
And somehow, through hard work and talent, everything has turned up Milhouse. Er, Salty. Well. Everything has turned out well. Cursed Smurfs movie...
How well have things turned out? Per Fan Graphs, Salty has a .352 wOBA which, if he had enough plate appearances to qualify (he doesn't due to his 60/40 time share with Jason Varitek) would place him fourth among catchers behind Brian McCann, Alex Avila, and old friend Victor Martinez. That's heady company. His slugging percentage of .482 would place him third among catchers. What's more, he's thrown out 28% of base runners, nothing to snarf milk at when you're talking about a catcher who regularly works with Tim Wakefield.
Salty! is not perfect. He still strikes out a fair bit (27.7%) and his BABIP is on the high side though certainly nothing ridiculous (.338). This may be his ceiling, but even if so, one of the ten best catchers in baseball is a nice ceiling. When you consider that coming into the season the Red Sox were widely thought to be in double deep doo-doo at the catcher position, Salty!'s success is all the more exciting.
Earlier this season I wrote a series of articles on the top five best trades of the Theo Epstein era (one more to go, I haven't forgot!). I don't think I'm spoiling anything when I say the Salty! trade wasn't on the list. If Salty! keeps this up, there could be a spot for it next season.