Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE
The Red Sox have shown interest in free agent catcher Russell Martin. What makes him an interesting option behind the dish?
Thursday seemed to provide a never-ending stream of Red Sox news--or perhaps more accurately rumors--as the GM meetings provided a veritable buffet of information for baseball reporters. While we tried to grab most of it that came our way during the day, even after the sun went down new tidbits came trickling out.
Perhaps the most interesting of these tidbits: Jon Heyman's claim that the Red Sox were seen meeting with Russell Martin.
This is not the first time the Red Sox have shown interest in Martin--they were in on the catcher back before he signed on with the Yankees--but it is the first sign we've had since then that the team might not be fully satisfied with having Jarrod Saltalamacchia as their starting catcher.
Martin's production at the plate is fairly similar to Salty's. Neither one produces much of anything in the way of average, but where Salty makes up for it with homers, Martin brings enough patience to the plate to at least get his OBP up over .300 on a regular basis. It's a tradeoff of power for on-base ability, but it all averages out to a wOBA around .320 over the last couple of years.
The place where Martin would provide a boost is in the actual catching aspect. While catcher defense is often hard to really evaluate, it's pretty safe to say that Jarrod Saltalamacchia isn't exactly competing for a golden glove back there. Russell Martin isn't the best of the best behind the plate either, but he's certainly enough of an upgrade over Salty in that regard that it's worth consideration.
It's the most nebulous area of catcher defense, though, that really makes me interested in Martin: pitch framing. Over the last few years, framing has become more and more the focus of those trying to quantify the value brought to the table by strong defensive catchers, and seemingly every time someone gives it a go, there's Russell Martin at the top of the list. While Salty has seen some positive if not entirely consistent marks in this area, Martin is one of the kings, turning balls into strikes with regularity.
Consider, for a moment, the case of Jon Lester. How many times last year did we watch him get frustrated with an umpire for having borderline pitches called balls? How many times did that lead to a big inning for the opposition? Now imagine if half of those went away, courtesy of a subtle shift of the glove from Martin. How much damage could have been avoided?
As always, it will come down to price on Russell Martin. He really shouldn't come with a hefty price tag, and if his salary would get in the way of other moves, it might be best to leave this sort of testing to others.
If, however, Martin isn't too expensive, it could provide an interesting opportunity for the Red Sox. They need a third catcher on their 40-man as is, and given how awful Lavarnway looked behind the plate during his time in the majors, it really wouldn't hurt to have him stay down in Triple-A another year, be it to learn the craft of catching or to consider picking up first base. If they end up keeping Salty, then he can hit exclusively against righties (Martin fares far better against southpaws), and perhaps even help to keep Martin's knees somewhat fresher.
It's all speculation for now, of course, but it's not too bad of an idea from the Sox front office.