So I was watching MLB Network's coverage of the Winter Meetings in Nashville, and the panel was discussing the potential ramifications and certain domino falling following the Mike Napoli to Boston signing. The consensus seemed to agree that this put the Red Sox 2012 starting catcher (Jarrod Saltalamacchia) on the trading block, and one possible suitor that was floated was the Chicago White Sox. The compensation piece heading to Fenway being trading block fixture SP Gavin Floyd.
Now both players are controlled through 2013. Gavin Floyd at $9.5 million, while Jarrod Saltalamacchia at an undetermined rate based on his second arbitration opportunity (he made $2.5 million in 2012).
Floyd will be in his age 30 year and is a fairly known 2.0 to 3.5 WAR quantity. Floyd posted a five year low in WAR (2.3 bWAR) in 2012, largely due to injuries limiting him to 168 innings pitched.
Saltalamacchia is a tougher projection because he possibly has not reached his peak as he goes into his age 28 season. He finally earned his first starting gig with Boston last year (in six MLB seasons) and posted 1.1 bWAR (1.8 oWAR, his defense was disliked) over 448 plate appearances. He's a José Valentín type of switch hitter (which is to say, he's useless from the right side), so don't expect much beyond 450 trips to the plate in 2013.
Even if Saltalamacchia improves slightly with the stick in 2013 as he gets his second year worth of starter at-bats (assuming Saltalamacchia is acquired by a team that intends to start him), his defense is probably average to slightly beneath that. Which is a lousy way to say, 2013 Gavin Floyd (barring injury) will be more valuable than 2013 Jarrod Saltalamacchia (perhaps by as much as +2.0 WAR). So why does the move make sense for the White Sox?
1) Tyler Flowers: If the Sox pull the trigger on this MLBN rumor, it shows that the Sox still don't trust "the key piece of the Javier Vasquez trade" to handle everyday duty. This despite GM Rick Hahn's words to the contrary. The move would be made in part because Flowers starting at catcher has the potential to create a black hole of suck in the lineup, something that Salty (95 OPS+ in 2012) should be able to avoid (although .222 BA and .288 OBP in '12 give me pause).
2) Pitching depth: This is questionable at best, especially when considering the Sox options in the minors in case of a DL stint by any of the rotation members. The Sox starting five without Floyd would figure to be Chris Sale, Jake Peavy, John Danks, Jose Quintana, and Hector Santiago or Dylan Axelrod (assuming no other moves to bring in a starter).
The top three are great (although, notably still behind Detroit's top three of Verlander/Fister/Scherzer) but then things get dicey. Jose Quintana might be fool's gold and is no sure bet to repeat his performance in 2013 (anyone remember that kid from Nacogdoches, 3.75 ERA in 2011 followed by 6.44 ERA in 2012). Hector Santiago would be making the transition from reliever to starter, never a sure thing despite the success of Chris Sale last year. Dylan Axelrod is a fine 6th or 7th man to stash at Triple A ball, but doesn't have major league stuff from the right side and an extended stay in the rotation could prove disastrous.
The minors offer no real options that would be ready for the beginning of the 2013 season unless the Sox really wanted to rush somebody (Nestor Molina? Charlie Leesman?) Despite the reservations of the past couple of paragraphs, Quintana and Santiago/Axelrod is the type of arrangement that could work out for the first couple of months before a more suitable option can be procured and by no means would totally quash this proposed deal.
3) Money: Even if Saltalamacchia earns double what he made this past year ($5 million), the Sox save $4.5 million off of the 2013 payroll that can allocated elsewhere. Third base? Starter to compete for the 4th and 5th spots? Left Field (probably a long shot, I expect the Sox to continue to bank on improvement from Dayan Viciedo)?
So, should the Sox trade away right hander Gavin Floyd for a in-his-prime backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia? My answer: No.
I don't trust Saltalamacchia's offense to be significantly better than assumed incumbent Tyler Flowers (88 OPS+ in 153 2012 PA). Flowers defense is better than the BoSox Varitek torch receiver. I don't trust the White Sox rotation to hold up on the backend without the presence of Floyd, which makes his almost certain WAR advantage the real trump card of this query. And finally (I applaud anyone who's read this far), I don't trust that $4.5 million (give or take a million either way, no way to tell the actual 2013 salary of Saltalamacchia, unless B-Ref just hasn't updated their page, in which case he already has a set salary making my assumptions possibly ridiculous sounding, but I digress) would be enough to acquire the type of asset that would remarkably improve the logic of the deal. Although, if the extra cash is enough to bring back Kevin Youkilis, then consider me intrigued (the thought of Brent Morel back starting at 3B in 2013 is the stuff of nightmares).
One last aside, this post is assuming the departure of A.J. Pierzynski. The Sox best option at catcher if they're not sold on the ability of Tyler Flowers to be a legitimate MLB starter, is still that turd of human being known as A.J. As a free agent, the Sox wouldn't be giving up a rotation piece to acquire him. Plus, he'd probably only be a one or two year commitment allowing the Sox more time to possibly find a more long-term solution (of course, the exact same thing could have been written two years ago when Pierzynski was a free agent, and then: ALL IN!!!!!!).
Pierzynski would be entering his age 36 season and eventually all those years behind the plate are going to catch up with his health (it caught up with his defense about five seasons ago). However, his 118 OPS+ in 2012 shows that his bat probably still has a couple of major league seasons left in it, even if that home run rate is entirely unsustainable.
All numbers and statistics used are from Baseball-Reference.