Should the Red Sox make signing Victor Martinez to a contract extension a priority?
In reality, it was a question without multiple answers, as David Ortiz matter-of-factly pointed out.
“You’re going to let a guy like that go?” the Red Sox DH responded. “Bring the guy here, put him in the third spot, play him all over the place and have him do what he’s done. You’re going to let him go? That’s not even a question. You’re going to have to do better than that.”
Ortiz was right, the value of Martinez has been undeniable since he became a Red Sox on the afternoon of July 31. So much so that it makes you wonder how important not letting the catcher/first baseman even get a sniff of free agency will be.
The 30-year-old has a team option left on his current contract that, at $7.5 million, will undoubtedly be picked up by the Red Sox. But after that, there are no guarantees.
And when it comes to looking toward the future of all spots currently occupied by Martinez, any sort of certainty is a welcome entity.
So, with the player's value defined, what now?
The Red Sox and Martinez have not begun to discuss a contract extension, although it’s a subject that the three-time All-Star isn’t shying away from.
“Definitely,” said Martinez when asked if he would like to talk about extending his stay with the Red Sox. “Who wouldn’t want to play here in Boston? It’s up to them, but from my side, I would want to stay here.
“Hopefully they want to do something. I would be more than happy to sit down and talk.”
It’s no secret that there will be decisions seemingly as pressing for the Red Sox’ front office before Martinez’ option year runs out. In the short-term, there’s the expiring contract of Jason Bay to consider, a dilemma that figures to be the most pressing issue of this offseason.
Josh Beckett has a $12 million team option following this season, one that is just as likely to be activated by the Sox as Martinez’s. Mike Lowell’s deal is up after ’10. And the guaranteed portion of David Ortiz’ contract ends after next season, with a $12.5 million club option for ’11 that isn’t nearly the slam dunk many once thought it might be.
Yet no decision might be as important as the one facing the Red Sox in regard to Martinez.
He is young enough to invest in for a sizeable yearly commitment, while playing positions that fit the Red Sox' needs for the present and future like a glove. Once the Jason Varitek era comes to an end, Martinez can be the bridge for whichever youngster the Sox want to groom into the role of an everyday backstop, while offering an appetizing option at first base when Kevin Youkilis takes on more time at third.
But the most important element of Martinez’ game when analyzing his long-term value to the Red Sox is the ability to hit in the meat and potatoes of the club’s lineup… And he’s a switch-hitter, to boot.
Solutions for middle of the order production don’t figure to be coming from the Red Sox’ farm system in the next few years (first base prospect Lars Anderson hit his first home run in nearly two months on Thursday night), and the team doesn’t believe that its biggest run-producers necessarily have to be 30-plus home run guys. (Martinez’ high is 25 homers in ’07.)
But he hits with enough pop to push across runs (as his 85 RBI would suggest), and when Jacoby Ellsbury or Dustin Pedroia are aboard, there is confidence that Martinez is going to find a way to move them along.
He might have been just the new guy for a while, but by now Martinez has taken on an entirely new persona. Now he’s the guy the Red Sox can’t afford to do without.
“It’s funny I had this conversation with my wife, of all people, because she’s at home watching all the broadcasts. She said you would never know that Victor Martinez was good before he got here,” Bay said. “I said, ‘Yeah, he’s always been pretty good.’ Boston, the spotlight is a little bit bigger, and to do what he’s done, especially in a pennant race, is pretty impressive. He’s come in and not only been productive but has become a clubhouse leader. He’s been great.”
When it comes to analyzing the realities of throwing a baseball to a catcher other than Jason Varitek, Josh Beckett has a simple philosophy.
“I’ll throw to whomever they put back there,” said the Red Sox starter. “We’ve just got to figure things out. We’re adults. We’re grown-ups. We have to figure (expletive) like that out. You can’t just go about your life hoping things work out because if you’re going about your life hoping things are going to turn out they’re (expletive) not.”
And there you have it.
Much has been made of the struggles Beckett has had this season when throwing to somebody not named Varitek. There have been four of those games this season, and in them the hurler has allowed a combined 20 runs. His latest hiccup came Aug. 18 in Toronto when the combination of Beckett and Martinez resulted in seven runs over 5 1/3 innings.
After the outing, Beckett took the blame, and continues to as he heads into his 26th start of the season on Friday night against the Blue Jays at Fenway Park. But…
“It matters. Don’t get me wrong. It matters,” Beckett said of working with a new catcher. “Jason Varitek is very special to me because we end up getting in a rhythm very, very quickly. But the bottom line is that it’s your fault. If you can’t execute a pitch and you give up a hard hit ball it’s your fault. Anybody who tells you different is probably a (wimp).
“For me the thing is that I throw so many pitches. For somebody new it’s very difficult to remember everything I throw because I throw everything to both sides of the plate. I might want that pitch, but they might set up to the wrong spot, which, like I said, is still my fault. I need to shake until I get what I want.”
Since the outing in Toronto, Red Sox manager Terry Francona has said that he will prioritize having Varitek catch Beckett going forward. And with the pitcher and the Red Sox not wanting Martinez to burn his pre-game preparation familiarizing himself with Beckett via bullpen sessions, all parties involved understand that discovering common ground might have to wait.
“We’ll probably wait until next spring training,” Beckett said. “Hopefully we’ll both be there and we’ll work on things together then.
“It’s weird because they’re trying to figure you out and you’re trying to figure them out. Neither of you want to step on each other’s toes. It takes time.”
And if the opportunity arises again, Beckett now has a better understanding of Martinez, as does the catcher of the pitcher. It’s not like the hurler hasn’t been through this before.
In ’06, Beckett’s first season with the Red Sox, it took three months into the season before the pitcher made it a point to get together with Varitek to tell his new catcher that the change-up wasn’t being used enough. But through communication and repetition, it has been a combination that has evolved from uncomfortable (remember that first start in Texas in 2006 when Beckett could be seen shaking off numerous signs) to what many perceive as the ultimate pitcher-catcher partnership.
PENNY WAS ON BOARD
When Brad Penny was so effusive in his praise of the team that had just released him when talking to the Boston Herald, there was a reason.
His experience on the mound in a Red Sox uniform could have been better – as the 7-8 record with a 5.61 ERA might suggest – but in the long run being in the organization might have still been the right thing at the right time for Penny.
After an injury-plagued season in ’08, Penny took full advantage of the shoulder-strengthening program of assistant trainer Mike Reinold, as well as the strength and conditioning regimen presented by Dave Page to set the 31-year-old up for potential success down the road.
“He was great from Day 1. He did everything we asked,” Page said. “He put his heart and soul into it. We didn’t have to explain a whole lot. The other guys on the staff kind of set the tone and he fell right in. He had a great effort the whole time he was here. We have noted progress on him. He achieved all of his goals.”
It is undeniable that Penny’s stay in Boston didn’t work out like all parties involved had hoped. The 98 mph fastball was there, but too many times, it wasn’t buried in the strike zone as the game-plan dictated. The results in such cases ultimately led to the pitcher’s exit out of town.
The pitcher who thrived on burying fastballs down, usually resulting in a flurry of ground balls, wasn’t getting the kind of results that had led to his previous success. By the time he left the Red Sox Penny had induced just eight more grounders than fly balls, a ratio that hadn’t been close through his 10-year big league career.
“I think there were some days he went out there and really felt strong, and on those days he had to almost, not throttle back, but not be a thrower because he felt so good he just started letting if fly, it would be in the middle of the plate, or he didn’t locate, and he’d get hit a little bit,” Francona noted. “When he’s good he’s strong and he’s down and it’s hard for people to elevate. He’s not necessarily a strikeout pitcher, but he’s a power guy that throws the ball down and gets a lot of ground balls. That was in and out for us. It wasn’t as consistent as we wanted and that’s why we made the move.”
Still, at the end of the day, both sides can take away some sense of accomplishment in the fact that Penny remained healthy and found the path which just might lead him back to some success.
“I knew him when he was 19 years-old when he was with Arizona,” Page said. “He’s come a long way, both in work ethic and professionalism.”
A NUMBERS GAME
Alex Gonzalez is clearly selfless.
As far as longtime clubhouse manager Joe Cochran can remember, Gonzalez became the first Red Sox player to hand over his number to a new player without asking for anything in return. In this case it was the shortstop giving newly-acquired reliever Billy Wagner No. 13 while Gonzalez switched to No. 3.
And don’t think for a minute this was simply an innocuous pair of digits in Gonzalez’s eyes, either.
The number ‘13’ is the traditional number worn by the best of the best of Venezuelan shortstops. Former Reds icon Davey Concepcion wore it, as did Omar Vizquel and current White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen. Gonzalez boasted the number throughout his minor league career until he got to the majors, when he switched to No. 11, the digits formerly worn by Luis Aparicio. (He wore No. 11 when with the Red Sox in 2006.)
But once he got the chance to grab No. 13 Gonzalez jumped at it, especially after getting the opportunity to play under the tutelage of Guillen while the former White Sox shortstop was coaching with the Marlins.
It was an admiration that started with games in Venezuela, continued after Guillen handed Gonzalez a pair of Nike cleats to wear in the minors, and blossomed when the duo finally worked together in the big leagues.
“I loved the way he played,” Gonzalez said. “He never gave up. He never put his head down. Having Ozzie next to me everyday, that was fun.”
Alex Speier contributed to this report.