The best hitting catcher on the free-agent market, Victor Martinez, was a good fit with the Boston Red Sox, a team with which he spent the past year and a half. Theo Epstein, their general manager, said he was one of their main priorities this offseason.

Martinez, 31, is a career .300 hitter and batted .302 with 20 homers and 79 RBI this past season. As a result, he had plenty of suitors. The Chicago White Sox offered him a contract worth $48 million over three years, while the Baltimore Orioles offered him the same amount over four years.

The Detroit Tigers trumped both offers, tempting him with a four-year, $50 million deal. He wisely took it to head back to the American League Central (where he played with the Cleveland Indians for seven-plus seasons). He will be a tremendous upgrade over last season’s duo of Gerald Laird and Alex Avila, who combined to hit .218.

Where were the Red Sox in all this? They offered him a choice: $36 million over three years or $42 million over four years. They tried in offering these contracts, but not hard enough.

Through the years Epstein and the rest of management have believed if a player wants to return to Boston they will do so for the contract they are offered, even if it is less than other proposals. Because of this, the Red Sox work in an elitist way. They feel they don’t need to be as aggressive. It’s Boston; who wouldn’t want to play here?

What’s worse, Boston needs Martinez. Detroit does too, given their ineptitude at the plate by their catchers this season, but losing Martinez leaves the Red Sox with another hole to fill. In passing up the opportunity to re-sign Martinez they are putting all of their eggs in Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s basket. The 25-year-old is now their No. 1 catcher, someone they are high on yet also someone who is a .248 career hitter and on his third team.

Martinez was a sure-thing. Saltalamacchia is a hope. That’s not a good trade-off.

I don’t understand their thinking at all. Martinez gave them so many options. He could play first base, catch, fill in at DH in case of injury or to give David Ortiz a break and was efficient from both sides of the plate.

How many players in baseball can excel at two positions in the field and bat .300 as a switch-hitter, get on base at a solid clip and supply an adequate amount of power? Very few. Even if they see Saltalamacchia as their catcher of the future, what’s the harm in signing Martinez to play first?

In passing up on Martinez, Boston better have something big up their sleeve. They are interested in some of the top-tier free agents, so they certainly aren’t afraid to spend—which makes their minimal offer to Martinez puzzling.

It is believed they want to make a splash during this free-agency period and then the next. Signing Carl Crawford this year, for example, and Adrian Gonzalez next offseason would fill holes. But signing those two would be a $300 million investment. So why not just sign Crawford and give Martinez $60 million or so? This would have saved the Red Sox $120 million.

What is troubling is that Epstein said the 2011 season is a bridge year, so he is clearly looking forward to the 2011 free-agency period, when Gonzalez and Prince Fielder will be available. Chairman Tom Werner begged to differ, telling WEEI in Boston: “I want to assure everyone that there is no bridge year here this year. I think that we are going to sign—I won’t promise—(but) we are going to sign a significant free agent. We are going to make a trade to improve ourselves.”

That significant free agent may now be Crawford. At least that’s the hope. The trade may be for Gonzalez, who would cost them the farm and dent their wallet in extension money.

They could have saved themselves the mistake of throwing prospects at Gonzalez’s current team, the San Diego Padres, by aggressively going after Martinez. I hope they live up to Werner’s quote and not Epstein’s. Now it’s all a matter of bringing in players who fit as well as Martinez did.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast from

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