PAWTUCKET – To trace the path of how Victor Martinez became a Detroit Tiger, one can look back at last July’s trading deadline. The acquisition of Jarrod Saltalamacchia meant the Red Sox had their coveted catcher of the future, and with Martinez heading into free agency, the handwriting was on the wall that the 32-year-old stood a longshot to be back with Boston in 2011.
Boston had a price in mind when it came to Martinez, something that obviously fell well short of the four-year, $50 million deal the Tigers inked him to. With Saltalamacchia, the Red Sox had a younger and cheaper alternative, someone whose best years were seemingly ahead of him.
Rehabbing with Toledo on Monday, Martinez was asked pointblank if he sensed his tenure in Boston was coming to an end the moment Saltalamacchia entered the fold.
Ever the diplomat, Martinez responded, “There’s what, something like 30 teams? I just worry about my team and help my team win somehow and let things happen. I can’t control what happens.”
That may be true, but that doesn’t mean those firmly in Martinez’s camp can’t speak freely and openly about the course of events that have gone on to shape the current catching situation in Boston.
“I think that Detroit showed Victor the confidence that he could contribute long-term, and they offered him a contract that right from the get-go was longer in duration,” said Alan Nero, the agent for Martinez. “They were much more aggressive about trying to get him. The Red Sox did make an effort to keep him, but in comparison, their offer fell short.
“When you’re an impending free agent and your team doesn’t lock you up a year before or during the season, as you get closer to free agency, you get to a point where you feel change is appropriate,” Nero, a Rhode Island native, continued. “I think he was very committed to wanting to be a Red Sox, though it became more obvious as time went on that he would probably have to make a change.”
If the Red Sox were leery about Martinez, currently on the disabled list with a strained right groin, serving as their primary catcher as he drifted into his mid- to late-30s, what about moving him to either first base or DH?
“I think the Red Sox organization thought that Victor, from a long-term perspective, wasn’t the right fit because of the catching, first base, and DH-ing situation. I don’t think they saw the fit that they wanted. The Red Sox are committed to David Ortiz, they are committed to Kevin Youkilis, and committed to Jason Varitek,” Nero explained. “Detroit saw him as somebody who could help at all three positions.”
Thus far the catching tandem of Saltalamacchia (17 games) and Varitek (13 appearances) has produced at an abysmal clip, combining for a .167 batting average with zero home runs and seven RBI heading into play Monday night. Such woeful stats make the numbers Martinez compiled before landing on the D.L. on April 18 – .250 with two homers and nine driven in – shine like the sun.
“You can’t take anything for granted in terms of what Jason Varitek has done for this organization. He was one of the greatest teammates I’ve ever played with,” said Martinez, who credits the Red Sox captain and bullpen coach Gary Tuck in helping his transition upon being acquired from Cleveland in July 2009. “Saltalamacchia is another great guy. He’s going to turn it around because he’s got great talent. He just needs to get confident. His time will come when he gets comfortable.”
There’s also this to consider -- with Martinez behind the plate last season, Clay Buchholz burst into a pitcher of prominence, parlaying an all-star campaign into a four-year, $30 million contract. Buchholz has yet to resemble the pitcher who in 2010 won 17 games with a 2.33 ERA, taking a 1-3 record and a 5.33 ERA into Monday’s outing against the Angels.
“I thought I had a good relationship will all the pitchers, not just Buchholz,” Martinez said.
Given the playful exchanges Martinez had with PawSox players Jose Iglesias and Ryan Kalish during batting practice Monday, the popularity of the Venezuelan native has not waned. His first plate appearance before the McCoy Stadium Faithful consisted of mostly cheers with some boos mixed in. The real test of how Red Sox fans receive Martinez will come May 18 when Detroit invades Fenway Park for a two-game series.
“I was doing all that I could to come back to Boston,” said Martinez. “It just didn’t work out. You can’t second guess anything, so I’m not going to.”