With news that the Boston Red Sox have signed longtime Atlanta back-up David Ross, now would certainly be an appropriate time to look down Zach Sanders’ Catcher End of Season Rankings, scroll down to number 12 and take a look at Jarrod Saltalamacchia. With a breakout year that saw him play a career-high 121 games and post career-best numbers in the primary fantasy categories, save for average and on-base percentage, the Red Sox now face some tough decisions. Do they keep Salty as their primary backstop and keep Ross in the reserve role to which he is accustomed or do they deal Salty away and make room for a potential catcher platoon with Ross and upstart Ryan Lavarnway?
The best answer to the trade question really lies in whether or not Lavarnway is ready to catch on the major league level. He didn’t exactly dazzle during his 46-game stint last season and there are several within the Sox organization who feel that the 25-year old could still stand to hone his skills behind the plate in the minors for another year. However, the team is supposedly in a rebuilding mode, so perhaps having Lavarnway, two years younger than Salty, learn on the job alongside Ross is the direction they’d like to head.
But we’re here to talk about fantasy Salty, first and foremost, so let’s get to the meat of it. His power is fantastic. He posted a .232 ISO in 2012 after finishing with a .213 mark the year before. His incredibly high strikeout rate and subsequent low contact rates will keep him further down in the order, so his runs and RBI will likely be comparable with most guys hitting out of the seven-hole. However, given the fact that few catchers are really batting higher than fifth, he continues to stand on the good side of catcher production, comparatively speaking.
The biggest hang-up that people have with Salty is the batting average and on-base percentage. Again, the weak contact rates are a big part of that and until he can reduce the number of strikeouts, even the most delicious of BABIP help isn’t going to bring that mark up to respectability. However, his increased walk rate this year, a mark that was actually better than league average, does give a shred of hope that his OBP can find its way north of .300. Consistency and a more selective batting eye will be paramount and there was a time in his career (2008) when all of that came together, so if he can just relax himself at the plate and not swing wildly at almost half of what comes at him, then he stands a chance to improve. Until he does though, the weak rate stats will always diminish the effectiveness of what his power can do for your team.
This should be an interesting offseason for Salty and for those who maintain an interest in him as their fantasy catcher. Though he is not a master of defense behind the plate, he has shown a few bits of improvement, so it seems unlikely that he would be thrust into a back-up role regardless of where he ends up playing. Obviously a hitter-friendly park is the preferred choice, so whether he stays in Boston or heads west to Chicago, his power should, at the least, be maintained. Again, it’s a matter of plate discipline for him and that remains independent of location.