Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Why the Twins dodged a bullet with Jarrod Saltalamacchia

The Twins reportedly pulled out of the Jarrod Saltalamacchia sweepstakes on Tuesday, opting to go in-house to fill their catcher position.  We'll find out in April who will fill the mighty milk glass of Joe Mauer, but Josmil Pinto is the early favorite with Chris Herrmann and Eric Fryer presumably in the mix.  Saltalamacchia was the second-best catcher on the free agent market, after Brian McCann.  He supposedly signed a very reasonable 3 year, $21 million dollar contract with the Marlins, lower than the 3/$30 number bandied about earlier in the off-season. 

While the contract is reasonable and Saltalamacchia was a nice target, I think the Twins dodged a bullet in coming in second in this particular race.  I have five reasons why I feel this way and I present them to you without commercial breaks.

Reason # 1 - Saltalamacchia isn't really a great hitter

Saltalamacchia rode strong 2012 and 2013 seasons into his fancy new free agent contract.  However, if you look closer, each of those seasons has a hint of mirage.  In 2012, Saltalamacchia hit .222/.288/.454, which results in an OPS+ of 97.  That isn't great, but it's good for a catcher.  The power really carried his season, as he added 25 bombs.  However, he had a ridiculous 20% home run to fly ball ratio.  That means that one in five fly balls he hit left the field.  11.3% was average in the American League in 2012.  Not surprisingly, his HR/FB dipped closer to his own average in 2013 (12.6%) and he only hit 14 bombs.

Of course, he also posted a career-high 118 OPS+ in 2013, with a batting line of .273/.338/.466.  He hit 40 doubles, showing that his overall power is legit, and his .273 batting average was a career high by almost 40 points.  Here's the rub:  his BABIP in 2013 was a colossal .372.  AL average in 2013 was .297 and he has never been higher than .304 in a full season.  That batting average could take a huge dip, back down to his previous career level of .239 and I wouldn't be shocked.  Unless he has another lucky figure in him, it's entirely possible that he hits in the low .230s with 15 home runs and an OBP under .300.  I wouldn't want to pay $7 million for that.

Reason # 2 - His name takes an hour to spell/type/say/text.

I've got it mostly down at this point, but it took me hours of intense practice and every once in a while a Saltalkadladkjrtat still creeps in.  If he has a bad at-bat or even game, think of how hard it's going to be to text his name with an expletive to your closest friend or family member.  His nickname is "Salty" which is not hard to type.  However, that nickname sucks.  Who wants to be known as "salty"?  I'd call him "Macha," "Mocha," or "Mecca."  A salty mocha sounds pretty good right now...

Reason # 3 -  The contract didn't make a lot of sense for the Twins

Unless the Twins think that Josmil Pinto has no future at catcher, signing a starting-quality catcher for three years is just not a good investment.  One of the biggest reasons that young players provide value is because they do so at such a low cost.  Young, talented players give bad teams the ability to invest money in other places.  If Pinto needs another year at AAA, then signing a veteran for 2014 makes perfect sense.  But why sign that veteran for 2015 and 2016 too?  Salty's offense is somewhat overrated, but his defense is actually pretty good.  If Saltalamacchia caught regularly in 2015 and 2016, the Twins would be taking a lot of Pinto's value away and possibly getting worse offensive production.  It just isn't all that logical. 

Reason # 4 - You'd be subjected to so many bad photoshops

Saltalamacchia has some pretty wild hair.  My first instinct is to take that hair and put it onto other famous figures:

So, that's what Lincoln looks like with Salty hair.  Now, that looks funny right now, but trust me, I can beat a joke or "joke" into the ground about as good as anyone.  If you think for even a second that I wouldn't have 100s of these by the end of April 2014, you're crazy.  For everyone's sanity, it's best that he went down to his Florida home.  Also, the summer Minnesota humidity would crush that hair.  I hear it isn't that hot in Florida.   

Reason # 5 - Saltalamacchia's platoon splits basically make him a lefty

True, Saltalamacchia is a switch hitter, but I'm not sure why anyone would want to see him bat right-handed.  His career OPS+ as a righty is 64 and his career OPS+ as a lefty is 115.  That obviously makes him a good left-handed hitter and therefore, that would make him a reasonable platoon-mate with Pinto.  However, that brings us back to the issue of Pinto being a part-time player at his very young age and during his peak years.  Many of the reasons to not sign Saltalamacchia are Pinto-related, but if the Twins don't believe in one of their best young players, then the future may not be bright enough to warrant spending big money on a free agent catcher.  It's a bit of a paradox, eh?

While it's always nice when your favorite team opens up the pocketbook to improve the team, I think this is money better invested in other areas.  I wouldn't be shocked if Josmil Pinto provides better offense than Salty as early as next season.  Unless the Master Plan goes awry, Pinto should easily surpass Salty before the end of Salty Mocha's new contract, and will do so at a fraction of the price.  I prefer to reward a player who has grown in the system, earned the right to playing time, and looks to have some pretty substantial upside. 

While $7 million per season is more than reasonable for a starting catcher, the Twins now have that money to invest in even more pitching.  No one likes to come in second, but in this instance, I think the Twins will eventually be glad they did.  If you're still not convinced, just remember:

I have no shame.


  1. Agreed, I was just wishing the Twins came to their senses on Salty. It's time to see who can play and who can't. Remember when the Twins used to let a lot of their young talent play at the major league level? Gaetti, Gagne, Bruno, Puck, Viola, Anderson, Laudner, Castino, they sucked at times, but eventually they produced world championships, forget patching holes with mediocre veterans, develop and test the young talent first.

    1. Completely agree! If the Twins didn't have a talented catcher on roster, I'd have been fine with Salty. He's a fine player. Pinto could be better. It's time to find out.