Boston Boosts Lineup At Two Spots With Martinez Acquisition

The Deal
If Matt Holliday was the best hitter moved at the trade deadline, then Victor Martinez wasn’t far behind. The Red Sox acquired the 30-year-old switch-hitter from the Indians for three young arms, each of whom was taken in the top 71 picks of a recent draft. Righthanders Justin Masterson (second round, ’06) and Bryan Price (supplemental first round, ’08) and lefty Nick Hagadone (supplemental first, ’07) all join the Indians organization.

Martinez has split time evenly this season between catcher, his natural position, and first base. He’s caught 684 games in his career, and the Indians had begun transitioning him more and more to first in an effort to keep his bat fresh. In 435 plate appearances this year with Cleveland, the club that signed him out of Venezuela in ’96, Martinez batted .284/.368/.464 with 15 home runs and 67 RBIs. He’s a true switch-hitter in that he has shown no platoon split in nearly 3,500 career PAs. That’s an .844 OPS from the left side, and an .814 from the right. Martinez has shown a bit more hitting ability (.303 average) and power (.475 slugging) as a lefthanded batter.

Martinez never has carried a reputation as a gifted defensive catcher, but he receives the ball well and his career rate of throwing out basestealers (24 percent) hovers near average. The Red Sox acquired him for his bat, though, and he offers a strong lefthanded-hitting option at catcher—in contrast to recent-vintage Jason Varitek—or a righty-swinging option to David Ortiz at DH. Martinez also can spell Kevin Youkilis when the latter is forced into duty at third base. Boston can bring back Martinez for $7 million next season on a club option—or they can buy out his contract for $250,000.

The Young Players
Masterson helped fill in gaps in Boston’s rotation (nine starts) and bullpen (27 relief appearances) during their ’08 wild card season. As a 23-year-old rookie, he went 6-5, 3.16 with 68 strikeouts and 40 walks in 88 1/3 innings and made the club’s postseason roster. A San Diego State product, he had accomplished more of the same for this year’s Red Sox team, starting six games and making 25 appearances out of the bullpen. At the time of the trade, Masterson, 24, was 3-3, 4.50 with a 67-to-25 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 72 innings.

At 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, Masterson generates superior plane on his hard sinker, which ranges from 90-94 mph and bores in on righthanded batters, a group that has hit a mere .211/.284/.310 against him in 313 at-bats. It’s a different story for lefthanded batters (.272/.372/.448) because they get a good look at the ball during Masterson’s funky, low three-quarters slot delivery. His low-80s slider serves as a secondary weapon.

The Red Sox brought Hagadone along slowly this season because he missed all but three games last season after having Tommy John surgery in May. He made 10 starts for low Class A Greenville this year, but he had not gone more than three innings or faced more than 14 batters in any of them. The 23-year-old was 0-2, 2.52 at the time of the trade, with 32 strikeouts and 14 walks through 25 innings. A 6-foot-5, 230-pound lefty who went 55th overall in ’07, Hagadone has shown mid-90s velocity in his brief pro outings, and his power slider features two-plane break. Since he also relieved in college at Washington, he doesn’t have an advanced feel for his changeup. With just 59 1/3 innings under his belt two years in to his pro career, Hagadone may need two full seasons in the minors to build up arm strength to make it in a starting role. If the Indians become impatient, he could make the big leagues as a reliever in a much shorter time frame.

Price struck out 54 batters in 48 1/3 innings as a Rice junior set-up man in ’08, joining the Red Sox organization that year as the 45th overall pick. Like Hagadone and Masterson, he’s a tall, physical pitcher (6-foot-4, 210 pounds) geared to overpower opponents. Working as a starter this season in two A-ball stops, Price went 4-8, 4.67 in 19 starts, striking out 97 and walking 31 over 96 1/3 innings. He had found the going a bit tougher with high Class A Salem, compiling a 6.54 ERA in Carolina League action—though his 57-to-19 strikeout-to-walk ratio was strong. Price’s sinking fastball sits at 90-95 mph with boring action and his slider tops out at 87 with tilt, making him an ideal bullpen candidate if starting is not in the cards.

Quick Take
The Red Sox’ offense ranked only behind that of the Angels and Yankees in the AL at the time of the trade. So while adding Martinez probably won’t push their runs-per-game total ahead of those clubs, it does give them an edge on their other East rivals in Tampa Bay. And if their pitching holds, it might be enough for them to catch the first-place Yankees.

Jim Callis has written elsewhere on our site that the Indians would have done better in retaining Martinez and ace Cliff Lee for 2010 and pushing for AL Central flag. It’s a difficult analysis to argue with, especially considering the instability in the division and the fact that Cleveland didn’t receive any true blue-chip prospects in either deal. What they did get in making these two trades, however, was a whole boatload of experienced minor league talent, with players who will begin populating the big league roster beginning this September—if they haven’t already.

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