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Baseball Notes

Not catching many offers

Varitek, Rodriguez deal with age issue

By Nick Cafardo
December 28, 2008
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There was a time not long ago when if Pudge Rodriguez and Jason Varitek were both available in the free agent market, there would be a stampede for their services. Now, there's barely a whisper.

Obviously, age and natural decline - Rodriguez is 37, Varitek is 36 - have a lot to do with it, as well as their subpar 2008 seasons - Varitek hit .220 for Boston and Rodriguez hit a combined .276 with Detroit and the Yankees (for whom he hit only .219 in 96 at-bats).

One of the issues in regard to Varitek is that he's a Type-A free-agent which would require first-round draft pick compensation while Rodriguez is in a better place, a Type-B free-agent. Because he was not offered arbitration, the Yankees would not receive a sandwich pick if another team signed the 13-time Gold Glove catcher.

Giving up a first-round pick for Varitek is a tough sell considering his offensive decline. But with Rodriguez, while his hitting, and power in particular, have declined, he still possesses one of the best arms in the game. And while he's not as adept at calling a game and handling a pitching staff as Varitek, his experience is still considered a positive. Obtained to replace the injured Jorge Posada, it was noteworthy that Yankee pitchers preferred throwing to Jose Molina instead of Rodriguez.

Rodriguez has hit 295 home runs, but over the last five seasons his totals have gone from 19 to 14 to 13 to 11 to 7.

"I have nothing bad to say about that guy," said Tigers manager Jim Leyland. "It got to the point with us where he wanted more than we were willing to give and we decided to make a deal. But I have the utmost respect for him as a player. He's in phenomenal shape. He plays hurt, wants to play every day, and he's a great guy on a team."

Leyland differed with Rodriguez over the number of games he should play. Leyland believed at this stage of his career Rodriguez was a platoon player - 80-90 games behind the plate - but Rodriguez wanted to play all the time.

"I started playing him behind the plate every other day and I thought his hitting came back," said Leyland of Rodriguez, who was hitting .295 when he was dealt to New York on July 30 for reliever Kyle Farnsworth.

Rodriguez's dissatisfaction with his playing time, coupled with the Tigers' unwillingness to extend him two or three years, led to the trade. Once Rodriguez got to New York, he didn't play well. He didn't hit, and some believed Rodriguez had trouble adjusting on the fly to a new pitching staff.

Leyland, when asked about Rodriguez's ability to handle a staff, said, "He's fine. It's amazing to me, and one of the biggest fallacies in major league baseball and a real pet peeve of mine is if you have a pitching staff that isn't doing the job, it's automatically the catcher's fault. Well, I'm here to tell you, our pitching problems last year had nothing to do with Pudge Rodriguez. We didn't do a lot of things right last year."

Leyland said he had only two disputes with Rodriguez in the three years he managed him in Detroit.

"I think that's pretty good," said Leyland. "If you only have two problems over three years with a superstar player nowadays, that means you're getting along great with him. Pudge and I had a great relationship. Like I said, I just respect him so much for all he's done in this game. Thirteen Gold Gloves, MVP of the league. These are all things he earned and he was worthy of. He's one of the great catchers to ever play."

And now?

"He's a very proud man and I'll bet you he's working his tail off trying to get his game back and trying to do the things he still wants to do in the game," Leyland said.

Leyland, who has an impeccable reputation when it comes to player evaluation, has been surprised that he's not received many phone calls asking his opinion about Rodriguez. It's a sign of the lack of interest.

Rodriguez and Varitek are both represented by agent Scott Boras, who is being patient (because he has no choice). The Red Sox and Boras had further conversations about Varitek while they were discussing Mark Teixeira last week, but nothing has advanced.

It also doesn't appear the Sox have any interest in Rodriguez and likely would stay with Varitek if they elect to mix a veteran with a younger catcher.

"I think the catching market is always a little slower to develop," said Boras. "Even though it's one of the most important positions on the field, the market is after rather than before. I think teams out there understand the value of the leadership that Jason and Pudge can bring."

While Boras wouldn't discuss interest by teams, the Marlins might bring Rodriguez back to where he won a championship if the price is right, while the Mets have been entertaining the thought of Varitek to work with their pitching staff.

If Derek Lowe, another Boras client, should wind up signing with the Mets, there would be a chance that Lowe and Varitek could be reunited. Lowe has always called Varitek the best catcher he ever worked with.

Rodriguez and Varitek were at one time the cream of the catching crop. While the intangibles that made them the best remain - leadership, competitiveness, etc. - time has caused enough erosion that teams now wonder whether either is worth the commitment.

Ramirez is now on deck

A comparison of the first six seasons of the top two hitters in the free agent market - Manny Ramirez and Mark Teixeira:

In 3,031 at-bats from 1993-99 (we're counting his 22 games in 1993), Ramirez scored 573 runs, had 932 hits, 203 doubles, 9 triples, 198 home runs, 682 RBIs, a .307 average, and a .975 OPS. Teixeira, from 2003-08, had 3,414 at-bats with 566 runs, 989 hits, 203 home runs, 223 doubles, 13 triples, 676 RBIs, a .290 average, and a .919 OPS.

Over the long haul, Ramirez has proven to be in short company of elite righthanded hitters - Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez - while Teixeira, 28, is entering the prime of his career. Teixeira, of course, is a switch-hitter.

Teixeira has surpassed Ramirez in contract numbers, compared with Ramirez's first big deal - eight years, $160 million, which could have expanded to 10 years, $200 million had he not rubbed out the option years on his Boston contract. Teixeira will earn $185 million (which includes a $5 million signing bonus) over eight seasons, but he earned $12.5 million from the Braves and Angels last season and $9 million from the Rangers in 2007.

Ramirez's big contract came after his seventh season, signing with Boston in 2001 after he'd earned $4.25 million with Cleveland in 2000.

Ramirez is next up for Boras. By Teixeira signing with the Yankees, it likely eliminated Ramirez from going there, though the drama of Ramirez vs. the Red Sox and the ratings bonanza that would mean for YES (let alone NESN) is still tugging a tad at the purse strings of some members the Yankees' brass.

The Nationals and Angels, who bid for Teixeira, were two teams Ramirez also seemed suited for, but they have indicated they're no longer in the market for him. The other team in the Teixeira hunt, the Orioles, has not said anything about Ramirez, who has hit well at Camden Yards (.314 with 18 homers, 24 doubles, and 76 RBIs in 338 at-bats).

The Dodgers remain a viable option, as they've already offered Ramirez two years at $45 million with an option year that could make the deal worth $60 million.

Eckersley delivers Hall of Fame endorsements

A few questions for Hall of Fame pitcher and NESN analyst Dennis Eckersley:

I know how seriously you take the Hall of Fame voting, both the regular balloting by the writers and the Veterans Committee balloting by the Hall of Famers. Two of your ex-teammates - Jim Rice and Rickey Henderson - ought to get in.

DE: "I think the Jim Rice debate is finally over. He gets in this time. He's gained a lot of votes over the years and he's been so close, that this year he should get over the top. It's hard for me to believe that it took 15 years on the ballot, because ask any of us who played with him and against him - he had that 10-year period where he was absolutely the most feared hitter there was. Jimmy deserves his due finally and he'll get it."

What are your impressions of Rickey?

DE: "He was one of the few players I ever played with who could win a game single-handedly without a hit. There wasn't anything he couldn't do, really. Oh, he didn't have the best arm in the outfield, but he played left and he didn't need it. He could run down balls, he could just run and create so much havoc on the bases. We'd win games, 2-1, because Rickey would walk, steal second and third, and come in on a sac fly. And what an eye. I never paid much attention to on-base percentage when I played, but he was the ultimate guy. He could lead off. He could hit in the No. 3 slot because he had power, too. Just a one-of-a-kind player."

There are varying reports on what type of a teammate he was.

DE: "Oh, he was a good teammate. He was never that disruptive. Heck, Jose [ Canseco] was more disruptive than Rickey. Rickey was a guy who just had a lot of fun playing the game. He didn't bother anybody. He did his thing and he helped every team he ever played for."

Are you surprised the Veterans Committee didn't elect a player to the Hall of Fame?

DE: "I'm shocked. I know the other committee elected Joe Gordon, but I thought we'd get somebody in there this time. This was the first year we were able to consider playing career and managing career, and if you do that, how does [Joe ] Torre not make it? Ron Santo should have been in. Gil Hodges. I was a big fan of Tony Oliva. I guess we're a tough group to impress."

Apropos of nothing
1. Don't you miss watching baseball?; 2. Not sure losing Kevin Cash to the Yankees was insignificant; 3. Aaron Harang, Pat Burrell, Mark Teixeira, and Brian Bannister - all former Red Sox draft picks; 4. Wouldn't it be nice if one of the rich athletes or one of the high-paid executives stood up in times when teams are laying off employees and said, "I'm giving up some of my salary to save the jobs of the working people in the organization?"; 5. Hall of Fame ballots are due in Wednesday. I voted for Jim Rice, Rickey Henderson, Bert Blyleven, Jack Morris, Andre Dawson, and Alan Trammell.

Up to the minute
1. Randy Johnson, LHP, Giants - The Giants are used to milestones (remember Barry Bonds), so signing Johnson to a one-year, $8 million deal where he'll be able to win his 300th game (he's five wins short) with his hometown team (he grew up in nearby Livermore, Calif.) will give the Bay Area some buzz again. Johnson also could be of help to young pitchers Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain, and dare we say Barry Zito?

2. Josh Bard, C, free agent - The former Red Sox and Padre has drawn interest from about a half-dozen teams, the Sox being one. Bard was a disaster here trying to catch Tim Wakefield's knuckleball and he was eventually cut by the Padres when his catching declined.

3. Jose Fernandez, 3B-1B, free agent - Fascinating player, now 34, who just ended a seven-year stint in Japan, hitting more than 20 homers each year. Could help as a righthanded-hitting infielder/DH type.

4. Mark Teixeira, 1B, Yankees - According to a source close to the talks with the Red Sox, Teixeira was very concerned about what would become of Mike Lowell should Teixeira sign with Boston. He mentioned Lowell a few times to Sox manager Terry Francona. Financial matters and the way negotiations went eliminated that awkward situation.

5. Derek Lowe, RHP, free agent - Agent Scott Boras seemed to think Lowe would be the next free agent pitcher to sign. The Mets appear to be the front-runners, but the interest is not necessarily limited to them. The Phillies also appear to be interested in coaxing Lowe to the East, and don't eliminate the Red Sox, who now have more money to devote to pitching with Teixeira out of the picture.

6. Kenshin Kawakami, RHP, free agent - The Red Sox are one of a handful of teams (the Orioles, Braves, Reds, and Cardinals are among the others) still interested in Kawakami, a former Chunichi Dragons starter. Only eight active major league pitchers with 1,500 or more innings have a better winning percentage than Kawakami's (.609). Granted, Kawakami's came in Japan. They are: Pedro Mart??nez, .684; Johan Santana, .681, Roy Oswalt,.668; Roy Halladay, 665; Tim Hudson, .655; Johnson, .648; Andy Pettitte, .629; and CC Sabathia, 616.

7. Jim Bowden, GM, Nationals - Bowden did all he could to get Teixeira, and Boras indicated the Nationals were in on the talks until the bitter end. Now Bowden is in need of a hitter and has indicated he is not interested in Manny Ram??rez. Adam Dunn, a player Bowden had while he was the GM in Cincinnati, might be a target.

8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C, Rangers - His final winter ball stats: 20 games, 66 at-bats, .364 average with 9 home runs, 21 RBIs, 17 walks, and 13 strikeouts for a 1.354 OPS. He also made only two errors. The Sox are still unwilling to part with Clay Buchholz to deal for him.

9. Andy Pettitte, LHP, free agent - Supposedly the final piece to the Yankees. But if he doesn't take the reduced $10 million offer, then what? The Dodgers, because of Joe Torre, are interested, and there are rumblings the Rangers might be tossing Pettitte's name around.

10. Mark Kotsay, OF, free agent - You can't rule out Kotsay returning to the Red Sox since they are in need of a fourth outfielder with Coco Crisp gone. With Lowell's condition up in the air, Kotsay also could provide protection at first if Kevin Youkilis has to play some third base.

Short hops
From the Bill Chuck files: "What do Mark DeRosa and Jose Guillen have in common with this year's MVP's? DeRosa and Guillen each struck out 106 times, while Albert Pujols (54) and Dustin Pedroia (52) combined to strike out 106 times." . . . Rocco Baldelli will attend the Boston Baseball Writers dinner Jan. 8 at the Westin Waterfront Hotel to receive the Tony Conigliaro Award. Tickets remain available for $150 each by sending a check to Boston Chapter BBWAA, P.O. Box 7346, Nashua N.H., 03060 . . . Happy birthday to former Red Sox Bill Lee (62), Zane Smith (48), and Benny Agbayani (37).

Nick Cafardo can be reached at cafardo@globe.com.

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