- Gordon Edes, ESPN Staff Writer
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ORLANDO -- The Red Sox options at catcher became significantly more limited with the news that free-agent John Buck was on the verge of signing a three-year deal with the Florida Marlins, as reported by Fox Sports.
Buck was widely considered the second most attractive free-agent option behind Victor Martinez, who probably will not be returning to Boston unless the Red Sox are willing to make a major investment, in both dollars and years. Seven or eight teams are in on Martinez, according to a baseball source, with the Detroit Tigers and Baltimore Orioles believed to be among the clubs most interested.
The Sox had interest in Buck, a baseball source said, but they viewed him more as a buy-high option whose power numbers last season for the slugging Blue Jays (20 home runs, 66 RBIs) were partially a product of the hitting environment in which he played, though 11 of Buck’s 20 home runs came on the road.
Red Sox GM Theo Epstein reiterated last week that the club wanted Martinez back, but the Sox made only a half-hearted effort to negotiate an extension this summer and has not been aggressive so far this winter. At the moment, the only catcher with big-league experience on the roster is Jarrod Saltalamacchia, as both Martinez and Jason Varitek are free agents.
The Red Sox have always been high on the switch-hitting Saltalamacchia, who was the opening-day catcher for Texas in each of the last two seasons, but he developed throwing issues after surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome -- a neck and shoulder condition -- and languished in the minors for the Rangers until they dealt him to the Sox at the trading deadline. The Red Sox would be taking a gamble to make Saltalamacchia their No. 1 catcher going into the 2011 season, but that’s not out of the question.
Beyond A.J. Pierzynski, who like Martinez is valued more for his bat than his catching skills, most of the other free-agent catchers are aging veterans who project more as backups than everyday catchers, like Bengie Molina and Rod Barajas, 35. The Sox are likely to explore trade options, too, perhaps reopening talks with the Angels for Mike Napoli, whom they claimed on waivers during the August waiver trading period but could not strike a deal with Los Angeles.
The Sox have some young catchers in the pipeline, including Mark Wagner, who broke a bone in his left hand while at Pawtucket, then developed further wrist problems. Another up-and-comer is Ryan Lavarnway, the former Yale star who was a Carolina League All-Star last summer, was promoted to Double-A Portland, and was named a “Rising Star” in the Arizona Fall League, where he has posted an impressive .270/.386/.459/.845 line for the Peoria Javelinas.
There remains the possibility that the Sox could re-sign Varitek to back up Saltalamacchia, even though there were indications he had played his last game for Boston.
Red Sox GM Theo Epstein, along with the other GMs, is expected to be available to meet with the media here in about 40 minutes.
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