Red Sox Ink Jarrod Saltalamacchia to One-Year, $2.5 Million Deal

How the newly re-signed Jarrod Saltalamacchia handles Jon Lester and the other top Red Sox pitchers will determine his success as the new everyday catcher. (Photo by Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

Jason Varitek is gone. Now it’s Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s turn.

The Red Sox signed Saltalamacchia to a one-year, $2.5 million contract Sunday, the Boston Globe reported, avoiding arbitration and giving Saltalamacchia a $1.75 million bump over his 2011 salary.

Saltalamacchia’s Giant Offensive Step Forward

Though he may never be the biggest offensive contributor on the team, Saltalamacchia proved last year he’s a legitimate power threat from the bottom-third of the lineup. He set many personal bests in 2011, including hits (84), doubles (23), triples (three), home runs (16) and RBIs (56). Saltalamacchia’s 2011 season ranks ahead of all of Varitek’s post-2007 seasons in most offensive categories, including batting average (.235 for Saltalamacchia in 2011).

The Red Sox have plenty of hitters in the middle of the lineup, but the deeper they can maintain their power, the better. If Saltalamacchia can continue to improve offensively – especially reducing his fifth-among-catchers 119 strikeouts – the hitters in front of him will enjoy more-hittable pitches.

Defensively Sound, Saltalamacchia Must Improve Game-Management

Not only did Saltalamacchia drive in runs, he likely saved quite a few as well. Saltalmacchia threw out 37 runners in 2011, ranking fourth in the majors. Varitek has never thrown out more than 31.

Defense isn’t the problem for Saltalamacchia. But finally given the starting job, Saltalamacchia needs to take control of the pitching staff.

Red Sox pitchers allowed over a run more per game with Saltalamacchia behind the plate than with Varitek. Saltalamacchia posted a 4.63 CERA (catcher’s ERA) to Varitek’s 3.56. Varitek hasn’t posted a CERA that high since 2006.

Of course, the pitchers Varitek and Saltalamacchia worked with played a big role in the differences between their numbers last season. Varitek has long been the designated catcher for Josh Beckett and Jon Lester – Boston’s two best pitchers. Saltalamacchia, meanwhile, has had to work with high-ERA guys like John Lackey and Tim Wakefield.

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Why Would Tim Wakefield Go to the National League?

Tim Wakefield should retire, not try to sign with an NL team. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tim Wakefield‘s declaration at the end of September that he wanted to return to the Red Sox made perfect sense: if the team wanted him back, why not? The fans have always loved him; he needs just seven wins to break the team’s career wins record; and figuring out what to do next – every professional athlete’s most-hated task – gets put off one more year.

But when the Red Sox didn’t come calling, Wakefield’s actions spun off into the nonsensical. ESPN.com writer Jerry Crasnick tweeted Wednesday that, at least according to Barry Meister, Wakefield’s agent, Wakefield is considering signing with a National League team.

If the tweet is accurate and not just a hypothetical, it makes no sense. Why in God’s name would Wakefield want to play for another team? And what other team would actually sign him?

Wakefield’s Horrible 2011

Wakefield’s surface numbers alone make it unlikely another team would sign him. He finished with a sub-.500 record, sported an over-5.00 ERA for the second consecutive year, and gave up 25 home runs – a number that has more than doubled since 2008.

However, Wakefield’s problems don’t stop there. In previous years, Wakefield had no problem pitching as strongly late in games as early on. But in 2011, Wakefield could never finish. From the fifth inning on, Wakefield had an ERA of 6.57. That’s 1.8 runs over his career average during those innings.

Wakefield became too hittable too early on in his outings, and that put tremendous strain on a both over-used and under-manned Red Sox bullpen. Even if other free-agent pitchers wouldn’t bring a greater skill set, they’d probably still bring more durability. Most teams wouldn’t want a starter who’d tax the rest of the pitching staff as badly as Wakefield would.

Wakefield hasn’t had a 200-inning season since 2005. He hasn’t even had a 180-inning season since 2008. The idea that other teams would pay much of anything for that little production is just silly.

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Red Sox Erred in Firing Francona, Should Cut Epstein Loose

Theo Epstein's bad personnel decisions caused the Red Sox's historic collapse this season. If anyone should be fired, it's Epstein, not Terry Francona. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

It’s too late to undo firing Terry Francona, a rash decision born from the kind of rabid bloodlust that few fanbases besides Boston’s are capable of. But if John Henry wants to cut out the true cause of the Red Sox’s historic collapse, he needs to go one level higher and axe Theo Epstein.

Player misuse caused by bad lineups, rotation or bullpen order can certainly kill a team, and that’s the manager’s fault. But this Red Sox team had a faulty foundation, and that’s the responsibility of the general manager who built it.

The rotten core that killed this Red Sox team began five years ago, when Epstein signed J.D. Drew and Daisuke Matsuzaka for big-time bucks. Drew’s pedestrian .264 average, 16 home runs and 57.2 RBIs per season have not been worth the cost, but that’s nothing compared with Matsuzaka. The Japanese so-called superstar was a dud in Boston, failing to contribute anything meaningful from 2009 until Tommy John surgery essentially ended his Boston tenure early this season. On top of that, he became one of the most frustrating, least entertaining pitchers in recent Red Sox history. Fans hated him, and that likely translated into less revenue from him than other pitchers. This is the exact opposite of what Epstein envisioned when he signed Matsuzaka.

Were these the only two bad contracts of the Epstein Era, he keeps his job. But these were just the beginning of a downward trend of spending big money on big games that could never hack it in Boston. For example: the 2010 John Lackey signing – a desperate, panicked attempt to prove to the fans a year after losing Mark Teixeira that Epstein could still attract major talent to as tough a media market as Boston. Lackey didn’t even have a particularly good 2009 (11 wins, fewest since 2003; 3.83 ERA, highest since 2004), but it didn’t matter: Epstein took him and his histrionics anyway. The result? A winning percentage barely above .500 and an ERA over 5.00.

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Athletics Hammer Wakefield for Eight Runs, Add Seven More off Bullpen

Josh Willingham rounds first following his fourth-inning two-run home run off Tim Wakefield during Friday's game at Fenway. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

The Oakland Athletics swung early and often Friday night at Fenway, and Tim Wakefield was powerless to stop them. Wakefield gave up eight runs (four earned) on eight hits, including two homers, and the Athletics battered the Red Sox, 15-5. The Red Sox maintained their one-game lead in the AL East because the Yankees lost 12-5 to the Orioles.

A Bad Night All Around for Red Sox Pitching

Up 2-1 entering the fourth, the Athletics took control of the game because Wakefield couldn’t get the third out. With one man on and two out, third baseman Scott Sizemore pulled the first pitch he saw just inside the Fisk Foul Pole for a two-run home run to go up 4-1.

Second baseman Jemile Weeks (3-5, three runs) struck out, but the knuckleball bounced away from Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Weeks reached first on the passed ball. Coco Crisp walked to set up Hideki Matsui, who doubled the first pitch he saw to deep center to score both.

DH Josh Willingham (2-5, four RBIs) waited a whole pitch before smashing his own two-run home run into the Green Monster seats to put Oakland up 8-1.

Wakefield had no one to blame but himself for his sixth failed attempt at his 200th win and sixth loss of the season. He left too many knuckleballs up in the zone and only struck out three despite eight two-strike counts. Just four of the eight runs Wakefield allowed were earned, but eight hits and two walks in four innings won’t get it done, no matter how good your offense is.

Wakefield had a faint chance of winning his 200th game when the Red Sox gave him a 1-0 lead to start the second, but he couldn’t hold it. First baseman Brandon Allen doubled to lead off the inning and scored on a single by right fielder David DeJesus. DeJesus moved to second on a wild pitch, and shortstop Chad Pennington (3-5, 2 RBIs) singled him to put the Athletics up 2-1.

Recently recalled Scott Atchison went three innings, saving the bullpen a bit but allowing a seventh-inning RBI double to Pennington that Mike Aviles – who was playing his first game ever in left field – may have misplayed.

Matt Albers continued his downward slide, allowing four runs on four hits and a walk in the eighth. In 10 August appearances, Albers has an ERA of 13.10.

Darnell McDonald made a rare pitching appearance in the ninth, giving up a two-RBI double to Willingham to put the Athletics up 15-4.

Red Sox Can’t Match Athletics’ Offense

The Red Sox struck early against Athletics starter Gio Gonzalez, with Jacoby Ellsbury leading off the first with a double, then scoring two batters later on Adrian Gonzalez‘s single just past Weeks at second base. David Ortiz followed Gonzalez with a single to extend his hitting streak to 10 games, but Jed Lowrie struck out to strand two.

That the Red Sox offense didn’t curl up and die after going 1-2-3 in both the second and third, then seeing the Athletics go up 8-1 in the fourth, is commendable, though it mattered little. Dustin Pedroia led off the bottom of the fourth with a home run off the Sports Authority sign above the Green Monster, and Ortiz followed him four pitches later with a solo shot into the center-field bullpen to make it 8-3 Oakland.

The Red Sox tacked on a fourth run in the fifth when Ellsbury led off with a triple and scored on a Marco Scutaro ground out, but they never closed the gap further. McDonald popped out on a 3-1 pitch with two men on in the sixth, then reliever Brian Fuentes got Ellsbury to foul out to end the threat. Gonzalez finished the game giving up four earned runs on seven hits, three walks and five strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

The Red Sox put two more on in the seventh on a Pedroia walk and an Ortiz double to right, but Lowrie struck out for the third time to end the inning. A pinch-hit double to right by Josh Reddick in the ninth scored Scutaro to make it 15-5, but Lowrie struck out again and Aviles flied out to the warning track in left to end the game.

With the win, Gonzalez evened his record to 11-11. It was his second career win against the Red Sox.

Red Sox Risk Little With Bedard and Fields

Erik Bedard didn't cost the Red Sox much, so he doesn't have to do much to make the trade successful. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

The Red Sox didn’t make a big splash before the 2011 Trade Deadline. There was no Victor Martinez brought in, no Jason Bay. On the other hand, it’s unlikely the Red Sox traded for the next Eric Gagne, either.

The Red Sox traded for Seattle starter Erik Bedard and right-handed reliever Josh Fields. They in turn had to give up pitchers Juan Rodriguez (a Single-A Greenville pitcher about whom it’s too early to tell) and Stephen Fife (11-4, 3.66 ERA at Double-A Portland), and catcher Tim Federowicz (a .275 hitter with .397 slugging at Portland). Federowicz might have eventually made it to Fenway, but Jarrod Saltalamacchia‘s development this year has solved some of Boston’s catching needs for the immediate future.

In exchange for three minor leaguers, the Red Sox get a decent but not spectacular pitcher in Bedard. Although Bedard is just 4-7, his record has as much to do with Seattle’s league-worst offense as it does Bedard’s pitching. Before injuries killed his last few seasons, Bedard was at least a B+ pitcher. He pitched from 2002 to 2007 with the Orioles, compiling a 40-34 record with a 3.83 ERA. Not bad numbers, especially in the AL East.

Against the AL East (excluding Boston), Bedard is 18-13, although that is helped out greatly by an 11-4 record and 3.41 ERA against the Rays. If Bedard can sustain that level of success, the Red Sox will most likely be satisfied with the trade. Ideally, Bedard provides a stop-gap measure through August that lets the Red Sox ease off Andrew Miller, then maybe takes Tim Wakefield‘s place once Clay Buchholz returns. Miller doesn’t have the consistency yet to be a starter (especially in the playoffs), and Wakefield suddenly has a Pedro Martinez-like pitch limit of about 85 pitches, after which he becomes almost completely useless. A healthy Buchholz and Bedard is the best possible combination of three-four (or three-five, depending on Bedard’s spot in the rotation) pitchers.

Fields was good in Double-A but has struggled in Triple-A. He’s probably not in the Red Sox’s long-term plans unless he dramatically improves. These weren’t the two biggest names out there, but the Red Sox this year brought in relatively cheap talent that shouldn’t hurt the team too badly and might pay dividends.

The Red Sox never did get a right-handed outfielder, and this might anger Red Sox fans. What fans don’t understand is that the Red Sox didn’t need a righty who can platoon in the outfield, starting every game against lefty pitchers. Boston’s starting outfield of Carl Crawford (a career .262 hitter against lefties), Jacoby Ellsbury (.261 this season) and Josh Reddick (.409 this season) can all hit lefties with at least enough success to justify their playing time.

No, what the Red Sox might have needed was a right-handed bench player – ideally one who can play in the outfield – that can pinch-hit against lefty-specialist relievers. So far, Darnell McDonald and his .173 average (.212 vs. lefties), .333 slugging (just three homers and four doubles) and poor base-running has not been that player.

The problem with a player like that is that it’s really easy to over-value him. The Red Sox wanted someone who might very well get just 40 at-bats the rest of the season (maybe even just 30), and there was no way they were going to over-pay for that production. Carlos Beltran, Hunter Pence, Cody Ross – these were all players too good for what Boston wanted, so they didn’t bother shredding the farm system to do so.

The Red Sox have the best record in the American League. They have the best offense of either league, and they play better on the road than any other team as well. This last attribute suggests that even if the Red Sox don’t win the AL East, they would still do very well in the playoffs. They didn’t need to add more bats to their lineup; all they really needed was some insurance pitching just in case.

For what the Red Sox had to give up, Bedard and Fields remain low-risk, low-reward trades. Boston didn’t need to add much to continue winning, so they simply didn’t.

Crawford Singles Twice, Drives in One in Return; Red Sox Clobber Orioles Bullpen

Carl Crawford went 2-5 in his return to the Red Sox Monday night in Baltimore and scored two runs, including in the eighth on a 3-RBI double by Darnell McDonald. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

The Red Sox needed 16 innings to score one run Sunday night in Tampa Bay. Twenty-four hours later in Baltimore, they needed just half that to score 15. Boston broke a 7-7 tie with an eight-run eighth inning, and Carl Crawford returned to the Red Sox with two hits, two runs and an RBI. The Red Sox beat the Orioles, 15-10.

Boston Batters Baltimore Bullpen in Eighth Inning

Both Orioles starter Brad Bergesen and Tim Wakefield dominated at times (Bergesen in the first and second, Wakefield in the third and fourth), but at other times they were anything but, setting up a 7-7 tie heading into the eighth inning. Darnell McDonald drew a pinch-hit walk off reliever Mike Gonzalez, moved to second on a Marco Scutaro single, then to third on a Jacoby Ellsbury walk. Scutaro and Ellsbury saw a combined 17 pitches in their at-bats.

Mark Worrell relieved Gonzalez with one out and the bases loaded, but he fared no better than Gonzalez. Dustin Pedroia bounced a 3-2 pitch off the right-field wall to plate two, then Kevin Youkilis knocked in two more by taking the first pitch he saw back up the middle.

Chris Jakubauskas was brought in to stop the bleeding, but instead he continued Baltimore’s downward slide. Josh Reddick walked on four pitches to re-load the bases, then Crawford singled to right to drive in Adrian Gonzalez, whom Worrell had intentionally walked. McDonald capped the eight-run inning by doubling down the third-base line, clearing the bases and putting the Red Sox up 15-7. The Red Sox sent 12 men to the plate in the eighth and scored 8 runs.

Crawford 2-5 in Return

Crawford entered Monday’s game 4-10 against Bergesen, making Bergesen an excellent pitcher to face in his first game back. Crawford grounded out to second on a 3-2 pitch in the top of the second, but singled up the middle to lead off the fourth. Crawford later scored from second when Scutaro’s grounder went through Orioles first basemen Derrek Lee‘s legs and into right field. The run put the Red Sox up 4-2, and Scutaro would score on an Ellsbury sacrifice fly to make it 5-2.

Crawford showed no problems with base running Monday night, trying to steal second in the top of the fourth on a pitch that Jarrod Saltalamacchia singled, and sprinting down the first-base line in the seventh to try to beat out a soft grounder to second. Crawford was called out on a play that could have gone either way.

Crawford also flew out to center field in the fifth. He caught or fielded every ball hit to left field.

Wakefield Can’t Hold Lead, Bullpen Takes Over

Wakefield recorded the first two outs of the bottom of the first easily, but then gave up back-to-back singles. Lee then took the second pitch he saw to deep center. The hit’s trajectory must have confused Reddick, who took a very poor route to the ball, getting fully turned around before the ball bounced off the wall behind him. Two runs scored, and Lee made it all the way to third.

The Red Sox took the lead back in the top of the third, with Saltalamacchia homering before the Red Sox hit four consecutive singles. Pedroia’s plated Scutaro to tie the game and extend Pedroia’s hitting streak to 16 games, and Gonzalez’s plated Ellsbury (3-4 as a DH with three runs, an RBI and a walk) to put Boston up 3-2. Reddick’s fifth-inning home run extended the lead to 6-2 after Boston’s two-run fourth.

Wakefield was in line for his 199th win, but two-run and solo home runs to J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones in the fifth cut Boston’s lead to one, then DH Nolan Reimold doubled to left with the bases loaded to give the Orioles a 7-6 lead. Wakefield exited the game one out shy of qualifying for the decision. Because of two passed balls by Saltalamacchia, only three of the seven runs Wakefield allowed were earned.

With Wakefield unable to finish the fifth, the Red Sox turned to Dan Wheeler, who rose to the challenge, stranding both inherited base-runners. Wheeler went 2.1 innings and allowed just a walk. He picked up his second win of the season and helped minimize bullpen usage on a night devoid of fresh arms. Mike Gonzalez took the loss, but it was Worrell who allowed all three of Gonzalez’s base-runners to score.

The Red Sox tied the game in the top of seventh when Youkilis singled off Jason Berken to drive in Ellsbury, who had singled off Troy Patton.

Randy Williams struggled through the eighth, giving up three runs on three hits, a walk and a strikeout, but Franklin Morales struck out the side in a perfect ninth to secure the win.