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Red Sox sign Jarrod Saltalamacchia for $4.5 million in 2013

The Red Sox [1] agreed to a one-year, $4.5 million deal with Jarrod Saltalamacchia [2], thus avoiding salary arbitration. The contract — which represents a significant raise from the $2.5 million he earned a year ago — is non-guaranteed.

Saltalamacchia, 27, hit .222/.288/.454/.742 with 25 home runs and 59 RBI in 121 games in 2012.  He led the Red Sox in home runs, the first catcher to do so since Carlton Fisk, who in 1973 and 1977 hit 26, the club record for a catcher.

The switch-hitter set career highs in home runs, RBI, games (121), runs (55), and walks (38).  Nearly half (43) of his hits (90) went for extra bases. He ranked third among major league catchers in home runs and finished with the fourth-best slugging percentage (.454) among American League [3] catchers (minimum 375 PA). As a catcher, his 104 games and 852 innings ranked fifth in the league, and his 95 starts tied for fifth.  His .991 fielding percentage ranked sixth.

Saltalamacchia’s 2012 performance was more or less in line with his career offensive totals, in which he struggled to get on base but showed prodigious power whenever he made contact. His .222/.288/.454/.742 line in 2012 was similar to his career marks of .239/.302/.418/.720.

Acquired by Boston from Texas for three minor leaguers (and cash considerations) on July 31, 2010, the native of West Palm Beach, FL, has hit 41 homers over the past two seasons, tied for the fourth-most among AL catchers.  Saltalamacchia, who hit 16 home runs in 2011,  is the fourth Red Sox catcher to hit at least 16 homers in back-to-back seasons, joining Carlton Fisk (1972-73, 1976-78), Rich Gedman (1984-86) and Jason Varitek [4] (2003-05).

Saltalamacchia is in his last year of team control. He’ll be eligible for free agency after the 2013 season. As the Red Sox roster currently stands, Saltalamacchia is in line to be the Sox’ primary catcher in 2013, though the team acquired David Ross [5] as a free agent this winter to serve as a backup with a larger-than-standard backup role. Moreover, with Saltalamacchia, Ross, Ryan Lavarnway and Mike Napoli [6] (as well as minor leaguers Christian Vazquez and Dan Butler) on the roster, it’s possible that a trade of one of those catchers — possibly Saltalamacchia — could take place.

Still, given that Saltalamacchia is the lone member of that group with the ability to hit left-handed (the switch-hitter launched 24 of his 25 homers against right-handers last year, hitting .230/.299/.480/.779 from that side of the plate), and the fact that he has built a reputation as a clubhouse leader over his three seasons in Boston, he remains a strong fit for the Red Sox roster in 2013 in the absence of a trade proposal that would motivate the Sox to deal him.