December 4, 2013
Ocean Breathes Salty
Agreed to a three-year, $21 million deal with C-S Jarrod Saltalamacchia [12/3]
On a day when 14 of 30 teams made at least one major-league move, even the Marlins got in on the fun. First-year general manager Dan Jennings’ first significant transaction brings a Florida native back to his home state, some 10 hours after the former Red Sox’s spot on Boston’s roster was usurped by A.J. Pierzynski.
Saltalamacchia goes from the defending world champions to the worst squad in the National League, on which the hitting bar for catchers was set historically low last season. Marlins backstops—a group comprised of Jeff Mathis, Rob Brantly, Miguel Olivo, and Koyie Hill—combined for a .195 True Average, the worst mark assembled by any bunch at any position on any big-league team. Since 1980, only one player* has logged at least 500 plate appearances in a season and finished with a TAv that poor.
The 28-year-old Saltalamacchia might provide as great a boost to the Marlins’ lineup as any free agent over his predecessor. Buoyed by a .372 BABIP, he posted a .288 TAv in 470 plate appearances with the Red Sox last year while continuing to refine a once-caddywhompus approach. Saltalamacchia increased his walk rate to 9.1 percent, a career best for a season with more than 300 trips to the box, and trimmed his strikeout clip to 29.6 percent, also a personal record.
Those improvements came with a drop in home-run power, as Saltalamacchia’s longball output dropped from 25 to 14, but he peppered the foul lines and the center-field triangle at Fenway Park to the tune of 40 doubles. He will need to find the gaps to keep that tally up at power-suppressing Marlins Park, but should infuse much-needed power into a lineup that saw only two players reach double digits in home runs and only one exceed 20 two-baggers in 2013.
In the squat, Saltalamacchia will be asked to handle a staff replete with young arms, led by Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez. The oldest pitcher on Miami’s 40-man roster is converted backstop Chris Hatcher, who turns 29 in January; the oldest starter is Tom Koehler, who turns 28 in June. Saltalamacchia is a solid blocker, but mediocre at both framing and throwing. He came in at 5.6 runs below average in the former category last season and gunned down only 21 percent of would-be base-stealers, the latter mainly because of an inaccurate arm.
Salty is but a small piece in the Marlins’ long-term overhaul, but could deliver a two- or three-win upgrade behind the dish, where the aforementioned foursome came in at a win below replacement level in 2013. That should help Redmond’s crew to avoid the indignity of a second straight 100-loss season, and—in tandem with the rise of Christian Yelich—accelerate Miami’s climb out of the offensive cellar.
Saltalamacchia’s arrival could also be a precursor to the third Jeff Mathis trade in as many offseasons. Mathis is entering the final guaranteed year of a two-year pact inked with the Blue Jays before they shipped him to the Marlins in the 12-player blockbuster last November. The 30-year-old is set to earn $1.5 million in 2013, which—notwithstanding any special powers he might possess—makes him a luxury item on a penny-pinching club.
*Neifi Perez, 2002