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Varitek's terms could be tough to meet

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. -- As much as the Red Sox hope to persuade Jason Varitek to stay in Boston, they face a mighty challenge since Varitek's agent, Scott Boras, said last night the catcher expects to receive a five-year contract with a no-trade clause that compensates him as lucratively as the top catchers in the game.

Varitek's proposal poses several potential problems for the Sox. It would clash with the team's unofficial policy of not granting contracts longer than four years. It also could violate the club's official policy against awarding full no-trade provisions and automatically trigger a no-trade clause for Manny Ramirez for the next four years. And it could require a financial commitment of $50 million or more.

Boras said Varitek believes the proposal is reasonable and responsible, especially considering the robust financial status of baseball in general and the Red Sox in particular. The no-trade clause could be crucial, Boras indicated, because Varitek's children are approaching school age and "being in one city for a long time is very important to him.

"Being a Red Sox all his life, he obviously thinks he's deserving of what every other team in the division does for their organizational players," Boras said here at the annual general managers meetings. "And with the evidence of his leadership, we obviously expect him to be compensated with the premium catchers in the game."

Foremost among those catchers is Ivan Rodriguez, who signed with the Tigers last January for four years and $40 million at age 32. Varitek also is 32, but Boras said Varitek could catch into his 40s and cited the history of the current Sox owners, including John W. Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino, awarding contracts longer than four years to their top players when they ran other organizations.

"We looked at what John Henry did for Charles Johnson with five years and a no-trade clause," Boras said, referring to the five-year, $35 million contract Johnson signed with the Florida Marlins in 2000.

Boras cited long-term deals with no-trade clauses Lucchino approved for Phil Nevin and Ryan Klesko and offered to Kevin Brown with the San Diego Padres. And he pointed to multiyear contracts with no-trade provisions Werner offered to Tony Gwynn and Fred McGriff of the Padres.

"I can't fathom why, if they move to a city, that would make any difference about how they conducted business," Boras said.

Boras said he also found it hard to believe that the Sox owners would allow "their competitors to draw talent away from their city because there's not a team that has talked with us that has in any way had any hesitancy about a no-trade clause."

He declined to cite the teams or specify how many he had talked to about Varitek. Teams cannot discuss financial terms with free agents until Friday.

Sox general manager Theo Epstein confirmed the team's policy against full no-trade clauses. As for the length of the contracts the Sox approve, Epstein said, "There's no policy, but you know our track record."

The longest contract the Sox have granted under the new ownership was Keith Foulke's, which the team considers a three-year deal with an option for a fourth but which the players' union considers a four-year agreement.

For Varitek, contract length should not be an issue, Boras argued.

"I don't think you're going to find a more conditioned athlete in the major leagues," he said. "Much like a Carlton Fisk or a Bob Boone, there are only a few catchers who play well in their early 30s, and when they do, the data says they go on to play well in their early 40s. I think Jason Varitek is going to be around quite some time."

Whether or not the Sox agree, they find themselves in a difficult position since Varitek is far and away the best available catcher on the market and they have no immediate replacement in the farm system. Barring a remarkable burst of progress in spring training, their top catching prospect, Kelly Shoppach, appears to be at least another year away from making the jump to the majors.

Asked if the Varitek's preliminary terms pose an obstacle to a deal, Epstein said, "I don't know. I'm still waiting for Scott to call me back."

Varitek has every intention of testing the open market when the opportunity begins Friday. And Boras made no secret that he believes teams have the money to meet Varitek's expectations. He cited rising attendance, increased revenue from advertising and concessions, improved television ratings, and "a dramatic appreciation of franchise values."

"I think our game is very healthy," he said, "and I think fans should expect their teams to aggressively pursue the top players."

Boras said Varitek gave him permission to discuss the length of the contract and the no-trade clause he desires to dispel rumors that "he has asked for astronomical things."

"We wanted to put that to rest because he really wants to be placed among his peers," Boras said. "It's certainly our opinion that with the kind of year he had and the kind of year he had the year before that he has put himself in a place that few catchers have reached offensively and defensively. You're not going to find a guy on a club that I can think of in recent memory who had the kind of influence he had on a major league pitching staff, particularly on veteran pitchers."

Among them was Derek Lowe, who also is represented by Boras. A number of teams have expressed interest in Lowe, though the Sox have not made him a high priority.

"We're finding that Derek Lowe has seeded himself as being a postseason horse," Boras said, referring to the sinkerballer winning the clinching games in all three playoff series for the Sox. "The only question we get asked about Derek Lowe is, `What happened in the first half of the season?' and then we talk about unearned runs."

Lowe led the American League with 28 unearned runs allowed. Boras argued that Lowe's numbers improved once the Sox upgraded their defense.

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