Marlins eager to welcome Jarrod Saltalamacchia
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Jarrod Saltalamacchia held his new jersey with his new bosses, Dan Jennings and Michael Hill, at his side, a return home imminent. The World Series champion was bound for South Florida, back to a familiar comfort, his whirlwind offseason reaching closure with a rich payday.
The Miami Marlins introduced their catcher of the future at the MLB winter meetings Monday. They hope the move is a mutual-benefit relationship throughout the life of Saltalamacchia’s three-year, $21 million deal.
The native of West Palm Beach, Fla., called his post-World Series life “crazy” since his former team, the Boston Red Sox, clinched the title on a chilled October night at Fenway Park. But now with his future decided, the destination desirable, he was eager for a fresh start.
“Can’t be in a better situation,” Saltalamacchia said. “I’m excited about these young arms to be able to go out there and have them make me look good, like a lot of the pitchers did this past year.
“I’m excited to get going and can’t wait.”
Neither can the Marlins, who have visions of Saltalamacchia’s veteran cool lifting their young arms to levels not reached to this point. The Royal Palm Beach High graduate was a common sight in lineups with the Texas Rangers (parts of four years) and Red Sox (parts of four), in addition to living a brief stint with the Atlanta Braves (47 games in 2007).
But with his signing in South Florida, he can be a mentor to a rotation that features this delicious prize: Right-hander Jose Fernandez.
Saltalamacchia’s seasoned eye will be good for Fernandez and others. There’s no shortage of raw talent within the Marlins’ rotation. However, untamed skill only goes so far, and it can become unfulfilled if it’s not groomed with help from behind home plate.
“First of all, he brings a culture that we need, and the component is he’s been a winner, he’s been a producer in the middle of a lineup,” Jennings, the Marlins’ general manager, told FOX Sports Florida.
“When you spend some time with him, you see his character and what winning means to him and he creates that mind-set of team and placing team over individual. All those things, he conveyed to us when we met with him. That was pretty exciting to know that at 29 years old (in May), he grows with our young guys going forward.”
Said Hill, the Marlins’ president of baseball operations: “We’re going to go after whoever we think is a good fit for us in negotiations. As you get into those, you see what happens. For us, we knew what we wanted to do. We had a decisive plan and tried to execute it.”
Because this deal was executed, Saltalamacchia offers a chance for decent production to complement his defensive promise. He’s a career .246 batter with 78 home runs and 275 RBI. He has played 121 regular-season games in each of the past two campaigns, both career highs.
Last season, he hit .273 with 14 home runs and a career-best 65 RBI. He had grown in Boston since joining the American League East power in July 2010, as part of a trade that sent three prospects to Texas.
But with his Miami arrival, he has a chance to enter a new phase in his career: A proven presence behind home plate.
“I’m more excited now to come and catch bullpens and see these young guys,” said Saltalamacchia, referencing Marlins’ pitching. “With Boston, I was with a lot of veteran guys, (guys who had) been around the league a lot of time, know their situation, how to pitch. … This is a young core of pitchers who are still figuring themselves out. At the same time, they’ve dominated at the highest level you can possibly do it at. I’m excited to see what these kids can do, and at the same time they’re open minded, so I’m pretty excited.”
He has more than one reason to be eager. With his Miami arrival, a working relationship will be revived with Rob Leary, who serves as the Marlins’ bench coach but spent 2010 and 2011 with the Red Sox as a coaching staff assistant.
Saltalamacchia spoke highly of Leary when revisiting memories of his old acquaintance Monday, saying, “When you’re around people like that, it can’t help but travel on to everyone else around them.”
The familiarity will be a positive as the catcher becomes comfortable with a new setting, new expectations, new possibilities.
“He may not know our pitchers right now, but … because he has more years of experience now and the pressure-cooker of the playoffs, pennant and World Series — all of those experiences are going to help him and our players get on the same page and work well together,” Leary said.
This is a relationship, if all goes well, that could lead to a happy marriage between a veteran catcher and unseasoned arms with high potential.
Saltalamacchia is coming home, and the Marlins are more than happy to have him there.
FOX Sports Florida’s Christina De Nicola contributed to this report.