Why the Red Sox letting Ellsbury, Saltalamacchia walk is a good move

Posted by Katie Peverada

The past week has been quite busy in the world of baseball, with the hot stove turning on full-blast. There were a lot of notable players moving around, via trade and free-agency, but the Boston Red Sox letting two players walk in free-agency were calculated moves for the benefit of the team. It would appear that the Red Sox let two key players walk in catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury. These moves seem detrimental and counter-productive (isn't the idea to repeat as World Series Champions?), however, Boston's general manager Ben Cherrington has the Red Sox on the right track. So far, the Ellsbury and Saltalamacchia moves are the right moves for each team involved.
By now, the sports world knows that Jacoby Ellsbury left the Boston Red Sox and signed with the New York Yankees for $153 million over seven years. The deal, which has an option for an eighth year, was in typical Yankee fashion. Stealing the Red Sox star-center field is something they've been doing for years (see Johnny Damon). Ellsbury is coming off one of the best years of his career and, pending he can stay healthy, should provide the Yankees with a strong bat at the top of the lineup. On top of Ellsbury's signing, the Yankees also signed catcher Brian McCann, and are still in a good position to resign pitcher Hiroki Kuroda. To sum it up, the Yankees missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008 (!), and as a result have embarked on a huge spending spree to return to the top of the AL East. Even if they don't win the World Series, the Yankees will still achieve their yearly goal of spending the most money, as they did in 2013 with $228,995,945 payroll.
In an equally as important departure and signing, but one done with much less fanfare, Saltalamacchia signed with the Miami Marlins for three years and $21 million. Saltalamacchia is a huge upgrade over Jeff Mathis and Rob Brantly, the Marlins platoon in 2013. Saltalamacchia's batting average of .273 is an upgrade of over .060. The Marlins, as bad as they have been the past few years-they haven't finished over .500 since 2009-they do have a strong, young, and deep pitching staff that finished a respectable 11th in MLB in 2013 with a team ERA of 3.71. It's at the plate where the Marlins struggle, finishing dead last this year with a team average of .231. Saltalamacchia wasn't the best available catcher on the market (the Yankees got that with McCann), but his stats are very comparable and his experience with winning is what the Marlins need in the locker room. Pending any crazy fire sales from owner Jeffery Loria, Saltalamacchia will prove to be the anchor for the Marlins climb back into relevancy.
But what about the Red Sox? They lost their starting centerfielder and their primary catcher and remain committed to keeping their roster financially flexible. Saltalamacchi was looking for a multi-year deal and Ellsbury was asking for a lot of money. In what was one of the quietest offseason signings, the Red Sox signed catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year deal worth $8.25 million. Pierzynski was signed before Saltalamacchia made it official with the Marlins. The Red Sox were not only ready to move on, but they were also prepared to. Pierzynski, a durable catcher coming off of a .283 season in Texas, will join last year's backup David Ross. Ross is no slouch, and could start on other teams, as he caught four of the six World Series games. Cherrington probably also had in mind that he has the sixth-ranked prospect catcher, Blake Swihart, and another great catching prospect in Christian Vazquez. Swihart won't be ready this year, but the Red Sox are high on his ability, which is why signing a one-year deal was important. It allows Swihart and Vazquez to develop in the minors in 2014 and makes the spot behind the plate open in 2015, when hopefully Swihart or Vazquez proves ready. Ellsbury's departure makes way for Jackie Bradley Jr. to replace him in centerfield, and explore free-agency a bit. Bradley struggled at the plate in his time in the majors last year, but the team seems ready to commit to him and his lights-out defense.
The Red Sox letting Ellsbury and Saltalamacchia walk got what everybody involved wanted. The Yankees will continue to spend, and nobody can ever tell what the Marlins are going to do. And while the Red Sox's success from letting the players walk does depend on how the prospects develop in 2014, all these teams will at least get a chance to prove that they made the right moves.

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