The 2011 season is finally over for the Boston Red Sox.

The upcoming months should provide a lot of intrigue.

A number of current Red Sox could be hitting the free-agent market: David Ortiz, Adrian Beltre, and Bill Hall if their respective options aren’t exercised. Also, the bullpen woes must be addressed. 

But most importantly, catcher Victor Martinez is assuredly hitting the free-agent market. Letting him walk would be a huge mistake.

Victor doesn’t want to leave Boston. The onus is on the front office to make sure he doesn’t.

Martinez, when dealt to the Red Sox from Cleveland at the 2009 trading deadline, broke down in tears when he was told by Indians GM Mark Shapiro that he had been traded. Martinez is the type of player who stays loyal to an organization, and had envisioned retiring as a member of the Cleveland Indians.

Now that he has found a new home in Boston, a place where he has thrived on the diamond and fit in in the clubhouse, Martinez would probably prefer that he and his family stay put.

Unfortunately, the Red Sox haven’t gotten negotiations off on the right foot. 

Earlier in the month, the team offered Martinez a two-year deal, which caught the catcher off guard. He politely declined.

“That’s a business part of this game,” Martinez told Boston sports radio station WEEI. “They’re trying to do one thing, and we’ll see what happens. I don’t really have to do it. They came with something, and that might just be where the negotiations start, but I don’t see myself signing a two-year deal. I’m young enough. I work so hard and I give it all. I just want to be treated fair. It wasn’t hard because it was something I wasn’t expecting. I wasn’t expecting a two-year deal, anyway. I wasn’t expecting for them to come to me during the season anyways.” 

Victor’s agent Alan Nero had this to say about the dealings: “Victor, at this point, is looking to be with a team for the rest of his career. It’s not a matter of security, it’s a matter of trying to get comfortable in one place.”

Basically, it all sounds as if Victor wants more years. He believes that he can catch full time for the rest of his career, which he’s said he would prefer to do. The Red Sox probably wouldn’t have to overpay for his skills in relative comparison to the market to get him either, just give him peace of mind in knowing where he’ll be.

A Victor-less Red Sox is a scary thought, one which most fans shouldn’t be comfortable with.

When you discount an injury-filled 2008 where V-Mart was limited to just 73 games, his domination of the catcher position over the course of his career has been quite remarkable.

Since 2004, his first full-time season, Victor has ranked in the top three among catchers in home runs and average five times, and runs and RBI six times. Other than 2008, Victor has been first or tied for first in RBI among catchers in every single, including 2010 (he’s currently tied with Brian McCann of the Braves with 77; McCann has 15 games on him).

Martinez is making an on-the-field case for why he should get a new contract from the Sox. After a thumb injury sidelined him for almost a month, an offensive surge over the last two months has shown why he’s so valuable.

In August, Martinez hit .298 with 4 HR and 15 RBI. In September, his numbers have been even better: a .324 average, 6 HR, 23 RBI, and a .941 OPS.

If Victor leaves, the catching situation in Boston next year would most likely be a platoon situation with Jarrod Saltalamacchia getting the majority of the time and Jason Varitek providing the occasional rest day and start against left-handers. 

To accomplish this, the Red Sox would have to re-sign the aging captain, despite the fact that he has more or less indicated that he believes this will be his last season as a member of the Red Sox.

Even in a platoon scenario, Saltalamacchia would well exceed the most at-bats he’s ever had in one year (308 in ’07).

And yet, Saltalamacchia hasn’t yet proven that he can hit consistently on the major league level, and he hasn’t been able to hold onto a starting job because of that. To bank on him finally doing that in 2011, while getting the most playing time of his career, isn’t sensible.

Also, Martinez has finally learned the nuances of the Red Sox starting rotation, something that was a minor point of criticism when he first arrived in Boston.

To show how far Victor has come in learning the staff, when asked about Martinez’s contract situation, Clay Buchholz openly endorsed him:

“We’ve got a bunch of catchers here, but he’s a special guy to this team because of his offensive capability and what he can do behind the plate.”

Martinez’s comfortability behind the plate with top-of-the-rotation guys like Buchholz will go a long way in a future re-signing with the team. 

And 2011 is a crucial year for Red Sox pitching; John Lackey and Josh Beckett have both had very disappointing seasons. The last thing either of them need is the uncertainty of who they’ll be throwing to on a day-to-day basis.

Letting Martinez leave could prove disastrous for years to come if Saltalamacchia doesn’t pan out. The Red Sox don’t have any legitimate catching prospects who are close to being MLB ready, and any struggles by Saltalamacchia could leave a gaping hole behind the plate until the Red Sox can fill that void.

Unfortunately for the Sox, quality free-agent catchers almost never hit the free-agent market these days, and it’s just as hard to trade for one. For the most part, you have to develop top catching talent, or get incredibly lucky like the Red Sox did in 2009, when the Indians practically dumped Martinez on the Sox.

For example, the free-agent catching class of 2011 (besides Victor) features such names as A.J. Pierzynski, John buck, Miguel Olivo, and Bengie Molina.

2012 is just as exciting. Jorge Posada and Pudge Rodriguez are both available, if the Sox want to go the 40-plus route.

Letting Victor leave would be the equivalent of the Red Sox organization saying, “We believe Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the full-time catcher of the future.” 

But if he isn’t, the Sox will have let one of the best catchers in baseball slip through their fingers, only to realize they need him more than anyone.

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