With the Red Sox mired in a slump right now, one has to wonder if they are fielding the best team possible with the players they currently have in the organization. And, since Jarrod Saltalamacchia is still on the 25 man roster, the answer is no.
It's tough to contextualize how bad Salty has been this season without wanting to add a number of adjectives and profanities before words like "bad", "abhorrent", "horrible", "atrocious", etc.; since that would make the writer sound ridiculous, and possibly biased. But Salty deserves it. Just look at his defensive numbers:
SB: 13 CS: 1
Percent of runners caught stealing: 7%
Passed Balls: 3
I'm actually surprised that he hasn't had more passed balls. Two of his errors -- that errant throw to Napoli the other night, and a throw into right field earlier this month -- led to three runs crossing the plate. One of those passed balls got a baserunner to third as well, and they later scored. So Salty's defense has already cost the Red Sox at least 4 runs -- and that's before taking his atrocious inability to keep baserunners from stealing! Salty has caught just 7% of baserunners this season. Are you fucking kidding me? That's horrible. So it's reasonable, without bias or embellishment, to say that Salty's defense is atrociously, ridiculously, astronomically fucking terrible.
Salty's 4 HR and 9 RBI simply doesn't make up for his defense, either -- and don't get me into his fucking strikeouts. He's averaging one K every 2.48 plate appearances. Salty is just an all-around fucking bad player; and the longer he's on the 25 man roster, the more he's hurting the Red Sox chances of winning. He's not even a suitable option to be a backup catcher anymore.
Who else can the Red Sox throw behind the plate? Right now, David Ross needs to be made the primary catcher, but Ross has been a backup his whole career and he's an older player -- he can probably only be reasonably expected to play 60% of the time. He's going to need an understudy, and the answer to who that player is should probably be Ryan Lavarnway; but let's consider another catcher in the system first.
Remember one of the Sox non-top prospect catchers who dazzled everyone with his defense in spring training games? To jog your memory, the player is Christian Vazquez and he's catching for AA Portland right now. His spectacular defense has continued to shine through in Portland, too:
SB: 17 CS: 15
Percent of runners caught stealing: 47%
Passed balls: 3
With a tandem of Ross and Vazquez behind the plate, opposing teams would think twice about having baserunners challenge their arms. With Salty, the only surprising thing is that only 14 baserunners have attempted steals with him behind the plate -- but as teams update their scouting reports and see Salty's deficiencies, expect the number of baserunners attempting steals to skyrocket. Yes, as bad as Salty is, the situation can become much worse.
Unfortunately, Vazquez's hitting stats aren't upto snuff: .258 AVG / .405 OBP, 2 HR, 11 RBI in 85 PA at AA. Vazquez gets on base a ton, and his batting average against LHP is a shade over .300 so maybe he could be used solely against southpaws, but it doesn't look like he's ready to hit at the MLB level yet. Which is a shame, because his defense is probably MLB ready, and I wonder if there would be some benefits of having him receive tutelage from Ross instead of playing everyday in Portland... But Vazquez is 22, had a great season at Salem in 2011 (18 HR, 84 RBI), so not rushing him to the majors is probably the safest bet.
That leaves us with the enigmatic Ryan Lavarnway. In 2011, Lavarnway looked like he was ready to clobber the fuck out of the ball at the MLB level. In 2012, he came to Boston and hit under .200. So, which Lavarnway came to play in 2013? Here are his numbers at Pawtucket:
.311 AVG / .413 OBP, 2 HR, 15 RBI, K per 7.66 PA
You know, I think Lavarnway might finally be ready. But what about his defense?
SB: 8 CS: 6
Percent of runners caught stealing: 43%
Passed balls: 8
Lavarnway and Salty have each had 14 baserunners attempt steals off them, and the percent of runners Lavarnway has caught, when compared to Salty's measly 7%, just speaks for itself. As for his 8 passed balls, that seems alarming until you remember that Pawtucket has knuckleballer Steven Wright in their starting rotation -- most of those past balls are probably knuckleballs that Lavarnway wouldn't have thrown to him unless Wright is optioned upto Boston. Even then, his passed ball numbers when accounting for a knuckleball pitcher seem decent.
Bottom line here is, while Lavarnway's defense isn't as good as Vazquez's, there's no doubt that he would be a vast improvement over what Salty offers us. And Lavarnway will probably be just as good of a hitter as Salty -- probably a better hitter, if comparing Lavarnway's K:PA ratio to Salty's horrible propensity to whiff means anything.
The time has come for the Red Sox to part ways with Jarrod Saltalamacchia - a failed prospect. Offer him an assignment in Pawtucket if you want to keep him around for "depth", but Lavarnway is ready to play and Salty, well, just can't bring it.