The Red Sox have three catchers and one first baseman. Or do they have four catchers and no first baseman? Making sense of the 1B - C tangle.
Ryan Lavarnway, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Ross, and now Mike Napoli. It's been said often enough that the Red Sox have cornered the market on catching this offseason, and when you look at a free agent pool which seems to have Kelly Shoppach as the best available option after A.J. Pierzynski, it's not a difficult claim to believe.
The question is: what are they going to do with it all?
Ben Cherington has made no commitments to anyone. Presumably David Ross will get his 50-or-so games behind the plate since otherwise there's no point to having gotten him in the first place, but beyond that it's unclear. As it stands, the Sox will enter spring training with four catchers, three of whom have to remain on the roster, and according to Ben Cherington that's no problem.
Or maybe not. It's become clear that Cherington is not a huge fan of Salty based on the rumors that he's been trying to trade him since before the offseason even started. The reason is probably pretty simple: Cherington doesn't see Salty as being worth an extension for 2014 and beyond, and thinks he can replace him easily enough for 2013.
The question is: should they?
When you really assess Boston's situation behind the plate and at first base without Salty, it comes down to the Sox needing one more guy. If Napoli takes on 80+ games behind the plate, then somebody's going to need to take over at first for him. If he's not, then we need someone to share the burden behind the plate. Maybe Ryan Lavarnway is that guy, but after his 2012 cup of coffee highlighted how lost he looked behind the plate, it's hard to see the organization handing him the reins anytime soon. Guys like Napoli and Victor Martinez are one thing, Lavarnway right now is another.
What would really make sense, though, is a left-handed bat. In the Armchair GM series, I picked Napoli and Ross much like the Red Sox have, and paired them with Justin Morneau, using Napoli as the typical catcher but moving him to first against the left-handed pitchers Morneau struggles with. While there's no word on that or any other left-handed first baseman coming in, we do happen to have Jarrod Saltalamacchia sitting right there on the roster already. He's a switch-hitter who pretty much can only hit righties and could take over the rest of the catching duties leaving Napoli to handle first the majority of the time. Simple, right?
Perhaps that's the plan, then. The team did say Mike Napoli was viewed as more of a first baseman than a catcher, even if after he was signed we heard that he would get time behind the plate. Maybe it's going to be a pretty simple 90-50-20 split, with Napoli heading back there for interleague games while David Ortiz takes over at first? Ross gets most of the lefties, Salty gets near enough to a starting spot by taking on the majority of righties, and Napoli is primarily a first baseman.
I'm not convinced that's the case, however, for a couple of reasons.
The first is the simple question of value. Salty is likely on the way out after 2013, and with so many teams desperate for help behind the plate, he'll likely net more in a trade than he would playing 90 games behind the plate.
Second, though, is the fact that this was the same Salty Cherington has been trying to move for months. The situation isn't changed from last year by the addition of Napoli and Ross to platoon with him, it remains the same. Last year, Salty was limited to just over 50 at bats against left-handed pitching, and still he couldn't bring his wRC+ up to 100.
Now, for a team that's got no options behind the plate that may be awfully appealing. As it stands you're lucky enough to find a catcher who knows which end of the bat to hold, much less one who can club 25 homers. But the Sox have Ross, and they have Napoli, and that means their opening can either be behind the plate...
...Or it can be at first where there are legitimate options available.
We'll see what direction the team chooses to go in. Maybe they don't like the idea of Napoli's knees taking on that much stress, or maybe they're not confident they can find however many games they'll need in addition to Napoli/Ross behind the plate (though I think that could be solved with a strategically timed DL vacation and a call-up for Lavarnway). Or maybe we've been mislead this whole time and Cherington is secretly planning to name Salty the team captain.
But don't be surprised if the Sox are still quietly poking around at both catcher and first base.