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Jarrod Saltalamacchia takes stock of past, present while eyeing free agent future: ‘Hopefully I can be back’

11.01.13 at 2:33 pm ET
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Jarrod Saltalamacchia hopes to remain in Boston. (AP)

Jarrod Saltalamacchia said he hopes to remain in Boston. (AP)

Of course Jarrod Saltalamacchia would have preferred to be the one calling the final pitch of the 2013 season, the one who was the first to celebrate with Koji Uehara in the middle of the diamond. He wouldn’t have been human if he hadn’t harbored such a preference, or if he hadn’t thought that, after starting 120 games of the Sox’ first first 177 games at catcher, he had earned the right to be behind the plate at the end.

Still, that sentiment didn’t get in the way of his experience of the final pitch, when Uehara punched out Matt Carpenter to conclude Game 6 of the World Series.

“It was so emotional. You’re sitting there on the edge and know that Koji is going to get it done. It’s just a matter of when, and who you’re going to be out there,” said Saltalamacchia. “It’s about winning. That’s what we’re here for. We want to win. Everybody wants to be out there. There were 20 other guys or 15 other guys on the bench who wanted to be out there. At the end of the day, we want to win. I can’t say enough about Ross. He’s helped me out so much this year. I can’t ask for anybody better to go out there and take the reins the last few games. It was tough [to sit], just for the fact that I don’t know if this is going to be my last year here. [But] I took everything in and enjoyed every minute of it.”

Saltalamacchia was mindful throughout the 2013 campaign that, as of the conclusion of the World Series, he’d be a free agent. As a 28-year-old who enjoyed the best year of his career — a .273 average, .338 OBP and .466 slugging mark with 14 homers and 40 doubles (a team record for a catcher) and who, despite his postseason offensive struggles (.188/.257/.219), still guided the team’s pitching staff to a 5-4 record with an average of 3.4 runs yielded per game in his nine playoff starts — he is poised to reach the open market at an opportune time. 

It hasn’t been that he’s been counting down the minutes to his free agency or that at any point he’s expressed anything but a desire to stay. It would be more accurate to suggest that he wanted to make sure he appreciated everything about being a Red Sox — and the impact that doing so had on his career, first in gaining a foothold as an everyday catcher, then in becoming a key contributor on a championship team — while still assured of being in a Boston uniform.

“It changed my career [when the Red Sox acquired him from the Rangers in 2010]. I was kind of stuck in a spot where I didn’t feel like I was wanted or needed or going to be able to go anywhere. Then I came over here and it was night and day — I felt wanted, I felt that this was a team that knew what I was capable of doing and they actually gave me a chance. I can’t thank these guys enough,” he said in the celebration. “The whole postseason, I’ve been enjoying every pitch, every out, knowing it could be the last, but [the World Series clincher] especially — I was looking in the stands, seeing everybody, looking at the jerseys and enjoying every minute of it. Hopefully I can be back.”

Of course, the emerging market for his services will shape whether or not Saltalamacchia does indeed return. From the team’s standpoint, given the presence of impressive catching prospects such as Christian Vazquez (a potential Gold Glover who reached Triple-A at the end of the year) and Blake Swihart (who, based on his outstanding performance in High-A this year, is viewed as a potential All-Star talent capable of providing standout offense and defense for the position), the ideal scenario is likely a two-year deal or a two-year deal that includes an option for a third year. Saltalamacchia, however, likely will seek at least a three-year deal, and given his age, 2013 production and the near-certainty that the other top catcher on the market — Brian McCann — will almost surely require teams to sacrifice a draft pick given the virtual guarantee that the Braves will give him a one-year, $14.1 million qualifying offer, Saltalamacchia would appear well positioned to receive at least that.

An important aside: Multiple industry sources indicate that the Sox are unlikely to offer Saltalamacchia a one-year qualifying offer, viewing $14.1 million as too great an overpay for a single season. There had been some late-season conversation about the topic late in the season, given how valuable it might be to retain Saltalamacchia on a one-year deal, but the team is trying to preserve financial flexibility to address other needs this offseason.

If the Sox follow through on that expected course, it could create a very active market for the catcher’s services. Already, according to an industry source, the catcher received calls from three interested teams on Thursday, before the champagne at Fenway Park had a chance to dry and days before Monday’s formal decision about whether the Sox will extend him a qualifying offer.

The Sox are expected to try to retain him on a multi-year deal, of course, but the team will have to compete against the market, at a time when they don’t have an ideal big league-ready frontline catcher. (Ross is considered more of a very strong second option whose ideal workload remains fewer than half the games of a season; the team does not seem inclined to entrust primary catching duties to Ryan Lavarnway; and Dan Butler is considered more of a catcher in the mold of Ross, a future backup capable of exhibiting leadership behind the plate with some pop but not enough offense to be an everyday option. Vazquez is thought to be at least a year away from being able to assume primary catching duties in the big leagues.)

Those are questions that will loom and come into focus, particularly next week, after qualifying offers are made (and not made). On Wednesday, and likely during Saturday’s Duck Boat parade, Saltalamacchia was more interested in focusing on the celebrations at hand rather than an uncertain future.

“Tonight was let your hair down, let your beard down and just enjoy,” he grinned.

Read More: Brian McCann, free agency, jarrod saltalamacchia,
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