The Miami Marlins are back in the free-agent ballgame, as the club reached a three-year deal with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia on Tuesday evening.

Alex Speier of WEEI first reported the deal, which will reportedly pay Saltalamacchia a $7 million annual salary:

Joe Frisaro of intimated earlier on Tuesday that the Marlins made Saltalamacchia, 28, a substantial offer, but no decision was imminent. He was expected to choose between the Marlins and Minnesota Twins, who are making a push to add a catcher after deciding to move Joe Mauer to first base. 

The Boston Red Sox, the club where Saltalamacchia spent three-plus seasons, essentially took themselves out of the race by signing veteran A.J. Pierzynski. After scuffling at the plate his first two full years, Saltalamacchia had the finest season of his career in 2013, hitting .273/.338/.466 with 14 home runs and 65 RBI.     

While he isn’t regularly cited among the best defensive catchers in baseball, he’s shown improvement in each of the past three seasons. His 7.3 defensive rating, per Fangraphs, was far and away the highest of his career.

The writing on the wall for Saltalamacchia’s departure from Boston, however, came during the club’s World Series run. With Saltalamacchia struggling with a high strikeout rate, John Ferrell eventually replaced him with David Ross for four of the World Series games.

The Marlins will obviously hope for a return to his regular-season form in 2014. They finished dead last in baseball this past season in nearly every major offensive category, and only two players had double-digit home runs. 

Saltalamacchia’s $7 million average salary over the life of the deal is also a huge step for Miami, which just a year ago stripped its payroll to the bone. Last winter, the Marlins traded ex-free-agent acquisitions like Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Heath Bell and others to take their payroll for 2013 all the way down to $36.34 million.

That figure ranked ahead of only the Houston Astros and came exactly one season after the club’s new Marlins Park opened. The new, cheap roster suffered through an understandably difficult season, going 62-100, again finishing only behind Houston for the worst record in baseball.

With promising young players like Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez adorning the roster, the Marlins are expected to try to get out of the National League cellar in 2014. Saltalamacchia won’t get them all the way there, but if his 2013 campaign avoids outlier status, he’ll be a good start.   


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