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Free Agent Pass or Play: Jarrod Saltalamacchia

http://cdn.bleacherreport.net/images_root/slides/photos/003/215/020/hi-res-170342025_crop_650.jpg?1371379700Each day until free agency begins, we at Phillies Nation will take a look at a player who will become a free agent five days after the World Series’ conclusion. We will explore potential performance, fit, cost, and feasibility. Today, we will start with World Series-bound catcher, Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Performance

Saltalamacchia, or Salty as he is known to Sox fans, was a first round draft pick of the Braves in 2003 out of high school. Saltalamacchia did not disappoint in the minors and was named Baseball America’s #18 prospect in 2006 and #36 prospect in 2007. The Braves’ aggressive placement of Salty, and his performance in response to it, saw him make his MLB debut on his 22nd birthday against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Salty was packaged with Elvis Andrus, Neftali Feliz, and Matt Harrison by the Braves and sent to the Texas Rangers in a mega-deal for Ron Mahay and Mark Teixeira on July 31 of that same year. Salty struggled to stay in the Majors from 2007 through 2010 but finally showed much of the promised potential in 2011, earning about half of the plate appearances for the Red Sox.

In the last three seasons, Salty has hit .244/.306/.457, averaging over 18 HR a season in just 1304 PA. His 40 2B in 2013 were easily a career high and, combined with his 14 HR, powered him to career highs in all of the triple-slash categories in 2013 (.273/.338/.446 in 470 PA).  Salty has remained mostly healthy through each of the past three seasons and will enter 2014 at just 28 years old. For those into WAR, FanGraphs has Salty at 1.6, 1.9, and 3.6 Wins Above Replacement for each of the last three seasons, putting him in the conversation as a first-division regular and trending upward nicely. The performance increase, however, should be considered with a heavy dose of caution when considering his sky-high .372 BABIP – he was likely good but also incredibly lucky in 2013.

Fit

Depending on what happens with Carlos Ruiz, Salty could be a fit with the Phillies line-up. Saltalamacchia is a switch-hitting catcher but the downside to Salty is that much of his success comes as a lefty against righties (.263/.327/.469). Salty is actually quite poor against lefty as a righty (.206/.267/.332), a mark that is solidly below replacement level. A platoon with him and righties Erik Kratz or Cameron Rupp could work but I would have reservations about signing a potentially $10-12 million a year player to platoon him.

Cost

According to the awesome FanGraphs crowd-sourcing project, Salty is likely in line for somewhere between $10-12 million per year for about a four year commitment.

Feasibility

Saltalamacchia could easily fit into the Phillies offseason budget should their payroll remain close to the number they posted last year and would not hamstring them. According to ESPN, the Phillies spent approximately $170 million last season and will have $25 million coming off the books in Roy Halladay and Chooch alone. There will also be minor savings from the releases of John Lannan and Delmon Young.

Verdict: Play

Salty is absolutely worth considering. While he may not be a true three-and-a-half win player, he likely has a floor of a two win player. Each of the last three seasons, Salty has improved considerably and, while it is difficult to measure defensive performance for catchers, he has graded increasingly favorably behind the plate. The hesitation comes because he cannot hit left-handed pitchers at all and, with Chase Utley, Domonic Brown, and Ryan Howard all hitting left-handed, he could compound a problem instead of solving it. Still, Salty is a young player who is entering the peak years of his career that is worth exploring at a four year, $40 million pact.

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