The Marlins might be frugal when it comes to shelling out big bucks on players. But they proved Monday in parting company with Jarrod Saltalamacchia they’re not afraid to cut their losses even when it comes at a great financial cost.
The slumping catcher — one of the biggest free agent signing busts in franchise history — was designated for assignment, meaning the Marlins have 10 days in which to either trade or release him.
Either way, the Marlins stand to eat most, if not all, of the $14.2 million owed to Saltalamacchia over the nearly two years remaining on his contract. But given how poorly Saltalamacchia has been at the plate and behind it, it was clearly a sacrifice they were willing to make.
“I don’t have a disappointment list of poor signings,” said Michael Hill, Marlins president of baseball operations. “But it’s one, unfortunately, that didn’t work out. It took deep, hard consideration if this was the direction we wanted to go because he still has almost two years left on his deal.”
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Saltalamacchia hit only .220 last season while also leading the team in errors. When he got off to another poor start, hitting .069, the Marlins decided it was time to change direction. They promoted J.T. Realmuto from the minors after backup Jeff Mathis landed on the disabled list with a broken finger and handed the primary catching duties to the rookie at the start of the last road trip.
“The emergence of Realmuto softened the blow,” Hill said.
Saltalamacchia missed the Nationals series over the weekend after being placed on the paternity list. Hill and general manager Dan Jennings called him on Sunday to inform him of the team’s decision.
“Salty was a complete pro,” Hill said of the conversation. “I think he was as disappointed as everyone. It hadn’t worked out when we signed him. The goal was for him to be a part of this ballclub moving forward.”
Manager Mike Redmond said Realmuto has shown he’s capable of performing at the big-league level, both as a catcher and as a hitter, in the brief time he has been up.
“He’s been a spark for us,” Redmond said. “It’s really no coincidence that our pitching has pitched a lot better with him behind the plate. J.T.’s done a great job, handles our pitching staff well.”
In Realmuto’s nine starts behind the plate, the pitchers combined for an ERA of 3.74. In Saltalamacchia’s eight starts, it was nearly a full run higher: 4.63.
“At the end of the day, we feel like this guy can really catch and really throw,” Redmond said of Realmuto, 24. “We need a guy to catch and handle our pitching staff, and he’s able to do that.”
The Marlins certainly didn’t anticipate Saltalamacchia struggling to the degree that he has when they signed him to a three-year, $21 million deal before the 2014 season.
But he joined a growing line of catchers, along with John Buck and Rob Brantly, the Marlins acquired, hoping to shore up a position that’s been difficult for them to fill.
“I just think last year was a tough year for him,” Redmond said of Saltalamacchia. “And I think we were looking for him to respond and come back and be better. And, for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen.”
Saltalamacchia had only two hits in 29 at-bats this season while striking out 12 times.
Already there are reports that a number of teams might be interested in trading for Saltalamacchia. But even if the Marlins are able to make a deal, they’ll still be expected to pick up a big chunk of his remaining contract.
▪ Marlins shortstop Adeiny Hechavarria was named the National League Player of the Week after hitting .500 (12 for 24) and leading the majors in runs scored and sharing the league lead in hits and RBI.
▪ Tuesday: Marlins RHP David Phelps (1-0, 3.55) vs. New York Mets RHP Rafael Montero (0-1, 4.15), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.
▪ Wednesday: Marlins RHP Mat Latos (0-3, 7.30) vs. New York Mets RHP Bartolo Colon (4-0, 2.77), 7:10 p.m., Marlins Park.