The Red Sox landing Russell Martin was always an unlikely scenario, only really conceivable in a situation where the rest of the league would be hesitant to offer him a long deal in the wake of the Brian McCann contract. That could have allowed Boston to sweep in and offer him something like a three-year deal with a higher average annual value, but with the Jays coming in at five years and better than $16 million per, it's hardly a surprise or, really, a disappointment that he is headed north of the border to compete with the Red Sox rather than for them.
So Russell Martin is off the market, but the Red Sox are still in need of a catcher. Christian Vazquez is an interesting young player, but can't handle the position on his own, and Boston's minor league options are limited, as they're certainly not about to rush Blake Swihart to the majors. What Vazquez does allow them to do, however, is approach the situation as a team in search of either a backup, or a starter. It rarely hurts to ease a catcher into a major league role, but if they really can't find a better option, then his glove is good enough that the Red Sox can accept a weak everyday bat in the starting lineup should he fail to improve at the plate.
So who will this other catcher be? Let's look at some of the most likely candidates:
Alex Avila (Detroit Tigers)
So far the only catcher that the Red Sox have been connected to, albeit tangentially, is Alex Avila. Frankly, though, he's not an appealing option. After a fantastic 2011 campaign saw him hit to a 142 OPS+, Avila has fallen off sharply in the past three seasons, producing a paltry .229/.333/.373 batting line (93 OPS+) while playing some pretty terrible defense behind the plate.
Perhaps a role as a backup to Vazquez would suit Avila. He's still hitting right-handed pitchers pretty well, producing a .761 OPS against them these past three years, and he certainly wouldn't have to face many lefties with the Red Sox. A less-demanding backup role could even help with the health concerns that have plagued him recently--most notably a series of concussions in 2014.
On the whole, though, those considerations really only serve to get Avila into the conversation. He's not the worst option, but that's mostly because A.J. Pierzynski is technically on the market.
Yasmani Grandal (San Diego Padres)
It likely won't take much to lure Alex Avila from the Tigers. But with Grandal and the Padres, it's entirely up in the air. The 26-year-old was once a highly-touted prospect, but has struggeld to really establish himself in San Diego. His 2014 season was impressive at the plate--he hit to a 112 OPS+, and anything over 100 has to be considered pretty good for a catcher--but he was almost exclusively productive against right-handed pitchers, and was something of a disaster on defense. In a way, he's the exact opposite of Vazquez.
Do opposites make an ideal partnership, though? Obviously it would be better if Grandal was a serviceable defender, but the idea of having his .781 OPS against righties without ever having to face a left is certainly appealing. The greater issue may come with the question of playing time, and if Grandal would be willing to accept a more even split with Vazquez than he had in San Diego, where he started 101 games last year. Given that he's just 16 months removed from serious knee surgery, some extra time off might actually be a very good thing for Grandal, but that doesn't mean he'll be interested in accepting it.
The bigger issue, though, is what it will take to get him. The Padres are under new management, and while Grandal is said to be available, it's not clear what that means. Are they actively looking to go in a different direction, or are they just putting his name out there in case someone wants to blow them away? If the former, the Red Sox should certainly consider snapping him up. If the latter, it's hard to imagine he's their best option. Either way, with Blake Swihart on the horizon and Vazquez already around, a good year from Grandal would leave them with the enviable problem of finding a home for a young, talented catcher down the line.
Photo Credit: Jake Roth -- USA Today Sports
David Ross (Free Agent)
It would be wrong to go down the list without accounting for Boston's backup of the past two seasons, but it seems like the time has come for the Red Sox to move on from David Ross. While he's served his role as a defensive backup and solid clubhouse guy, Ross' bat is not what it used to be, and the concussion issues make him somewhat unreliable as Vazquez' second. There are just better options out there.
Geovany Soto (Free Agent)
It's hard to know what to make of Geovany Soto. He takes "inconsistent" to a whole new level. Just consider the fact that on a season-to-season basis his OPS has never changed by fewer than 108 points. One year he'll look like one of the better offensive catchers in the game, the next dead average, then a complete disaster in year three.
Unfortunately, the overall trend is still downward, and he even has serious health concerns these days after missing most of the 2014 season with injuries. He's also a pretty bad defender, leaving him looking like something of a poor man's Yasmani Grandal, just less reliable. He's not even left-handed, making him a poor match with Christian Vazquez.
Somehow, though, the idea of signing Soto doesn't sound all that terrible. He shouldn't cost much, lower playing time should help with the health issues, and while he might not let Vazquez be used in a straight platoon, the potential for him to hit seems greater than most of the other options, and if Vazquez has any hopes of becoming a major league starter, he's going to need to hit against right-handed pitchers at some point. Soto is certainly not a great option, but he is, at the very least, not so bad as his 2014 would make him out to be.
George Kottaras (Free Agent)
After coming up through Boston's farm system and spending parts of two seasons with the Red Sox, George Kottaras was released, and has spent the last five years moving from team to team, having seen time in the majors with six different organizations over that span.
What makes this curious is that Kottaras has been shipped away time and again despite hitting to a 101 OPS+ in that time. It may come in a slightly frustrating fashion, with plenty of strikeouts and relatively few hits. But with a 14.1 walk rate and 32 homers in 858 plate appearances, Kottaras is able to get on base better than one might expect, and really punish pitchers when they give him something to hit.
As with most of the other options, Kottaras is a pretty poor defender, but the bat does seem to be good enough to carry that weight, particularly if he's only ever facing right-handed pitching. Unlike the other defensively-challenged backstops, however, Kottaras has neither the former heights of Avila and Soto, nor the potential of Yasmani Grandal. There isn't much real upside to be had. However, with a backup likely good enough for the Red Sox, Kottaras' solid bat might just be the right fit.
Hahaha, seriously, though, never again.