ORLANDO — While the top catching option available could land a nine-figure deal, the White Sox appear to match up with free agent Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
Much of the attention behind the plate this offseason has been given to Brian McCann, who reportedly has five teams with big checkbooks lined up for a contract that could reach $100 million.
Though his credentials aren’t as impressive as his seven-time All-Star counterpart, Saltalamacchia is clearly the second-best option on the market and could have as many as seven or eight teams after him, including perhaps the Boston Red Sox. Even so, Saltalamacchia promises to come at a much more reasonable price.
That should tempt the White Sox, who would like to make an improvement behind the plate over last season, when neither Tyler Flowers nor Josh Phegley took advantage of a starting role.
Yes, the bulk of the team’s money has been spent on Jose Abreu’s $68 million deal and the White Sox have said they are more likely to make a big splash via a trade than in free agency. But Rick Hahn — who will arrive at the general manager’s meetings Monday — also said the club would approach each free agent on a case-by-case basis. What they’re likely to find in Saltalamacchia is an affordable, long-term option who would provide the club with an immediate upgrade.
Last week, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman estimated Saltalamacchia could receive $30 million over three seasons.
With close to $70 million currently committed for next season (including MLBTraderumors.com’s arbitration projections), the White Sox could ostensibly fit Saltalamacchia onto the payroll even with $14-15 million budgeted for the amateur draft and international signees. The White Sox had an opening day payroll of $112 million in 2013, though they trimmed more than $10 million with in-season trades of Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton.
Last week, Saltalamacchia’s agent, Jim Munsey, said of his client to the New York Daily News: “He is going to say, ‘I’m going to listen to what people have to say. I’m willing to go to whoever offers me the most security.’”
Security is one aspect the White Sox can offer because he qualifies as a long-term option, one of the team’s criteria.
The White Sox could offer Saltalamacchia — who turns 29 in May and hit .273/.338/.466 with 14 homers and 65 RBIs last season — at least three years and perhaps a fourth without worrying about significant regression on the back end of the deal. Hahn has said the team wants players who are long-term solutions as opposed to stopgap measures.
Unlike McCann, Saltalamacchia also has a big plus in that he only comes at the cost of money. Whereas the Atlanta Braves made a qualifying offer to McCann, the Red Sox didn’t with Saltalamacchia, which means whatever team signs the latter won’t have to forfeit a draft pick. One of the more appealing aspects about Abreu, Hahn said, is the White Sox didn’t have to part with players in a trade for the slugger nor did they surrender a draft pick.
Lastly, an addition of Saltalamacchia not only gives the White Sox an additional left-handed bat, it would bring them a potent one.
Saltalamacchia, who bats from both sides, finished last season with a career-high OPS of .804. He has 55 homers over the last three seasons. And he was significantly better against right-handed pitchers with an .873 OPS against them vs. a .673 against lefties.
The White Sox were pleased with how both Flowers and Phegley handled the pitching staff in 2013. But the team’s catchers combined for a .560, which ranked 29th out of 30 teams. While Saltalamacchia isn’t a stalwart defender, he is experienced and can help improve an offense that scored fewer than 600 runs in a full season for the first time since 1980.
“Our catchers deserve a fair amount of the credit for what our pitchers have been able to accomplish,” Hahn said in September. “From that standpoint, we're pleased. Obviously offensively we've fallen short. The production from that position, as well as many other positions hasn't met what we need. … Either the guys we have improve or we want to go with somebody outside the organization, so we'll see how the next few months unfold.”