November 13, 2012

Tom Caron: Ross signing a prelude to key Red Sox trade?

BOSTON - The Red Sox have made their first splash in the free-agent market, and the player they landed was a surprise, to say the least.

David Ross
click image to enlarge

Catcher David Ross, 36, helped lead the Atlanta Braves to a National League wild card spot last season.

The Associated Press

We've been waiting to see what General Manager Ben Cherington would do this off-season.

Would he dive into the deep water of free agency and make a splash with one of the biggest names like Josh Hamilton or Zack Greinke?

Or would he be looking to fill his needs in the outfield, at first base, and in the rotation with value selections? Or perhaps he would fill those through trades.

Last weekend, he didn't fill any of those needs.

He added David Ross, a catcher who helped lead the Atlanta Braves to a National League wild card spot last season. A catcher with strong defensive skills who can keep an opponent's running game in check.

Wait. ... A catcher?

Catching seemed to be the one area the Sox were set at for the foreseeable future. Ryan Lavarnway and Jarrod Saltalamacchia were a young duo that, while not perfect, had enough upside to get the job done in 2013 and beyond.

Instead, the Sox have added a 36-year-old backup catcher who hit .256 with nine homers last season and was the starter in Atlanta's postseason one-game playoff loss to St. Louis.

What does this mean to the current catchers on the Red Sox payroll?

It probably means one of them won't be around come spring training. Saltalamacchia is 27 years old and led the Red Sox with 25 home runs last season, one short of the club record for HRs by a catcher. He has improved considerably behind the plate, and would undoubtedly bring interest from some teams.

Yet he hit just .222 for the Sox, and posted just a .288 on-base percentage.

The Sox believe Lavarnway can be a much better hitter than that. But the 25-year-old didn't show it last season, hitting just .157 in 46 games. By all accounts, Lavarnway spent the season working on his defensive lapses.

Once considered sub-par behind the plate, he was named the International League's defensive catcher of the year this season.

The Sox know the free-agent pool is relatively shallow. Adding Ross gives them the ability to move one of the two young catchers as part of a trade.

They will have to give up some players in order to rebuild and bounce back from the team's worst performance in a half-century. Now, it seems almost certain that a catcher will be part of one of those deals.

If that's what happens, it's a clear sign that Cherington will be willing to do some unexpected things this off-season. And that's exactly what he'll need to do if the Sox are going to unexpectedly become a playoff contender again in 2013.


Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.


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