Switch is flipped
To boost offense, Red Sox acquire versatile Martinez from Indians
BALTIMORE - There were at least two other trade scenarios considered more major than the Victor Martinez deal that was consummated yesterday afternoon, but Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, while somewhat frustrated by those missed opportunities, will be content with the acquisition of one of the toughest hitters in baseball, who also happens to be a catcher.
The Sox also swapped first basemen with the Braves, sending Adam LaRoche to Atlanta for Casey Kotchman.
“We engaged, in previous days, we had some things working, things we were really excited about, and a couple that got really close, but didn’t happen,’’ Epstein said. “That’s par for the course in deadline season. We shot big on a couple things, a deal that could provide maximum impact. We were very aggressive in use of our own prospects, those deals got close . . . Maybe the foundation is laid for the offseason.’’
Epstein didn’t elaborate on what those deals were, but the Red Sox were very much involved in trying to acquire Padres All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, Seattle righthander Felix Hernandez, Indians lefthander Cliff Lee, who was traded to Philadelphia, and to a lesser degree, Roy Halladay. Toronto GM J.P. Ricciardi said the Sox did not come back with a last-minute package, but they were never willing to surrender reliever Daniel Bard.
Epstein said one deal required five or six prospects, but the pieces didn’t quite fit. The Mariners listened to a half-dozen offers for Hernandez, but elected not to trade one of the best young, established pitchers in baseball. Epstein has always coveted Hernandez, once naming him when asked at a charity event a few years back which player he would start a team with.
Gonzalez appeared to be one of Boston’s top priorities, but San Diego GM Kevin Towers asked for several prospects for what is now his only remaining star. Later, he dealt the injured Jake Peavy to the White Sox for four players.
Epstein was thrilled to add Martinez, 30, to the middle of the batting order. He said they will likely use Martinez in a similar fashion to Cleveland, which played Martinez 52 games at catcher and 47 games at first base this season. The Sox will mix in at-bats at DH to save Martinez’s legs. The All-Star will have to come in cold and learn the Red Sox’ pitching staff on the fly, but his offensive thunder should offset any defensive deficiencies.
“He’s a below-average catcher,’’ said one American League scout in attendance last night. “His biggest weakness is his arm, but the whole package is unbelievable. Great makeup. Great clubhouse leader. It’s a great get for the Red Sox.’’
Martinez, who is batting .284 with 15 homers and 67 RBIs, has a $7.5 million club option for next season, which the Red Sox will likely pick up. Whether there’s an extension negotiated beyond that remains to be seen, but Martinez would seem to fit Boston’s long-term plans.
“He has the ability to catch, but not to do so every day, [that] just wears his legs down. [We want him to] spend enough time at first base and DH, stay fresh, and that works for our club because Jason Varitek is, has been, and will continue to be a very important part of our club and [working with] the pitching staff,’’ Epstein said.
There was surprise in Cleveland that Martinez, admired for his leadership qualities, would be moved. He was also a respected member of the community and gave a lot of his time and resources to Cleveland-area charities. Martinez said at the All-Star break that he preferred to remain in Cleveland, but was also looking forward to rejoining a pennant race. The Tampa Bay Rays were also interested in Martinez, but never ponied up the package of prospects Boston was willing to surrender.
“What we’re getting in Victor is a middle of the order, switch-hitting batter, who can catch, play first, DH,’’ said Sox manager Terry Francona. “It’s a very valuable piece. There are a lot of things to like about Victor . . . [He] can do a lot to hopefully be able to attack a lot of the better pitching in the league.’’
Martinez was told of the news by Indians GM Mark Shapiro when he arrived to Progressive Field yesterday afternoon. Martinez took the news hard. He was holding his 4-year-old son, Victor Jr., wearing sunglasses and wiping away tears as he spoke.
“It’s tough. It’s tough when you know you’re leaving your house and leaving the organization that gave you a chance to play in the big leagues,’’ he said. “This organization made me a better ballplayer and a better person. It’s tough, but life continues and I have to keep moving. It’s the toughest day of my career.’’
Asked whether going to Boston made things easier, he said, “It’s an honor for me to go out there and keep playing my game and help them win. Everybody knows I play to win. I love this game and I’ll go there and do the same thing. As soon as I cross the line, I’m all about winning.’’
Martinez follows Cliff Lee, Ben Francisco, Ryan Garko, and Rafael Betancourt, all of whom were traded over a nine-day stretch beginning July 23.
“It’s tough to look around and see all your teammates you came into the league with going, and now I see myself in the same situation. Until today, I was confident I was going to stay here, but it didn’t happen,’’ Martinez said.
Shapiro said, “I went to bed last night assuming we weren’t going to trade him. And in the first couple of hours this morning, there was nothing going on. But then about noon things started to come together and things got resuscitated quickly.’’
Kotchman will go from starter to bench player. The Sox plan on using him for late-inning defense and as a part-time player and pinch-hitter.
“A little surprised but not overwhelmingly surprised, which is how the game is, the business is,’’ Kotchman said. “I’m just thankful for the opportunity to be here and play for Bobby Cox.’’
Cox wanted more power and therefore welcomes LaRoche, who was also geared for Fenway because he is a lefthanded batter who hits to the opposite field a lot. The Red Sox thought LaRoche needed regular playing time, which they could no longer guarantee.
“This is a first for me,’’ LaRoche said. “But I’ve had a lot of firsts in the last seven days. I’m disappointed because this is an unbelievable team on the field. It just didn’t work out, but it’s nice to go somewhere where I’ve been before. The bottom line is, I understand. I consider myself an everyday player and I’ll get the chance to go be that with the Braves. But I’m keeping an eye on the Red Sox. This is a phenomenal organization, first class all the way.’’
Masterson called the trade “bittersweet.’’ He spent the afternoon kidding around with his soon-to-be ex-teammates and saying goodbye.
“Theo didn’t want to throw me into the mix, but Mark [Shapiro] wanted me in the mix so that’s why it took so long,’’ Masterson said. “It’s a good opportunity for me. It’s the business part of the game and none of us are exempt from that. All I can do is go to Cleveland and continue to do the best I can.’’
The Sox offense received a much-needed lift, but now the team has to deal with a lessened bullpen and still no help in the starting rotation. Tim Wakefield could return for the Tampa Bay series next week and Daisuke Matsuzaka is still a few weeks away.
“We were involved with some talks that could have led to some pretty good starting pitchers becoming available, but it didn’t turn out that way and I don’t think you’ll see much impactful starting pitching move in August,’’ said Epstein. “But we like our pitching staff and our run prevention is very good . . . You’re always looking for an impact starting pitcher, especially this time of year. It didn’t come to fruition.’’
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.