LAS VEGAS - Jason Varitek's agent, Scott Boras, has a lot of confidence that his client will have some options in the free agent market before all is said and done. The Red Sox captain, as expected, declined salary arbitration last night, which will allow the catcher to explore free agency.
It doesn't mean Varitek is out of the picture in Boston, but Boras always has believed he can create a market for a player and with the catching market depressed, Varitek eventually should generate interest from teams such as Detroit, Florida, and the Dodgers, and perhaps the Mets or Phillies.
Varitek, 36, hit only .220 in 2008 as his offensive numbers continue to slide. The Red Sox would like to have Varitek back on a short-term deal of no more than two years at close to the $10 million-per-year contract he's just coming off. While Boras believes there will be a market for Varitek, it hasn't become obvious yet.
A few baseball people who began to trickle into the Bellagio Hotel and Casi no last night for the winter meetings seemed skeptical any team would commit to Varitek for more than two years. But again, it's early in the process and Varitek still has the reputation of being a solid catcher who can improve a young pitching staff. That's why the Dodgers have considered a move for Varitek to help out Russell Martin.
The Sox have been pursuing catching help this offseason, with the hope of finding a young player who eventually could be groomed as the starter. If Varitek is around to work with that young catcher, all the better. The Rangers have four catchers and likely will trade two of them, with the Sox having interest in Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Alternatives include the Angels' Jeff Mathis, who has lost playing time to Mike Napoli, or a veteran such as the Giants' Bengie Molina or the Orioles' Ramon Hernandez.
The Sox also offered arbitration to righthander Paul Byrd, but he declined as well. Boston being stocked with starting pitchers was thought to factor into Byrd's thought process.
One of the big free agent prizes, lefthander CC Sabathia, is in Vegas after attending the Oscar De La Hoya-Manny Pacquiao fight Saturday night at MGM and is likely to stay in the area for a few days. It's possible he will meet with the Red Sox, although it doesn't appear the Sox have interest in offering Sabathia anything as substantial as the Yankees' reported offer of six years and $140 million. Sabathia's hometown Giants appear to be weighing whether to make him an offer . . . Paul Kinzer was one of the first agents to be seen in the lobby here. He's trying to peddle shortstop Rafael Furcal and closer Francisco Rodriguez. Kinzer confirmed that talks with the A's regarding Furcal have ended. Furcal had hoped to replace Omar Vizquel in San Francisco, but the Giants opted for Edgar Renteria and gave him a two-year deal at $18.5 million. K-Rod, who set the record for saves in a season with 62 - has drawn limited interest. The Mets planned a meeting with K-Rod here last night, but teams appear unwilling to offer more than three years. The Brewers could get involved if the Mets don't move quickly.
Greg Maddux officially will announce his retirement at a news conference today at the Bellagio. Maddux, a Las Vegas resident, will take a year off and then seek a coaching job next season. He finished his career with 355 wins. Said Stan Kasten, the Braves' former president, who signed Maddux as a free agent, "He was the greatest pitcher of our generation." Kasten said he was struck by many things about Maddux during his time in Atlanta, one being he was the only pitcher he ever saw warm up out of the stretch to work on his control. "He always said what I'm trying to do when I pitch when there's nobody on base is to keep the ball in the ballpark and when he had men on base to be as pinpoint with his control as possible. He was amazing to watch and he was just a regular guy. He could walk into mall right now and people wouldn't even recognize him." . . . Another fight spectator was Detroit slugger Gary Sheffield, who is one away from 500 career home runs. "I'm ready to go," said Sheffield. "The big thing for me is to be healthy and I'm getting healthy, so I'm looking forward to it." . . . Righthander A.J. Burnett might be one of the first of the top free agents to sign. He has a four-year offer with a vested option for a fifth year on the table from the Braves, who are desperate to sign a pitcher. It doesn't appear there's another team willing to go as long as the Braves.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com.