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Varitek meets with Henry

He wants to return, says face-to-face with owner 'went OK'

Jason Varitek's dismal offensive season (.220) hasn't enhanced his bargaining power. Jason Varitek's dismal offensive season (.220) hasn't enhanced his bargaining power. (File/Barry Chin/Globe Staff)
By Tony Massarotti
Globe Staff / January 17, 2009
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Longtime Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek met with club owner John Henry for approximately 90 minutes near Varitek's Atlanta-area home last night in an apparent attempt to resolve the winterlong stalemate between the player and team.

Communicating via text message after the meeting, Varitek said the meeting "went OK" and there was "nothing to report."

The Red Sox captain said he met with Henry "to speak [about] how I feel," answering "yes" when asked if his desire was to return to the team for the 2009 season.

Varitek declined comment when asked if the Red Sox expressed a desire for him to return. He also declined to address specifics as to why he remains unsigned less than four weeks before pitchers and catchers report to spring training.

Late last night, Henry returned an e-mail declining comment.

"It wouldn't be appropriate,'' wrote the Red Sox owner.

According to a baseball source, Varitek requested the meeting, an unusual development during a negotiating season typically dominated by agents. Varitek is a client of Scott Boras, the agent who represents first baseman Mark Teixeira. Teixeira turned down an offer from the Sox to sign with the Yankees last month. Coincidentally, Boras was in Atlanta yesterday to accompany another client, Derek Lowe, who was introduced by the Braves after signing a four-year, $60 million contract.

Henry, meanwhile, was in Boston to announce the signing of first baseman Kevin Youkilis to a four-year, $41 million deal.

Henry was critical of Boras during and after the Teixeira negotiations, all but accusing the agent of bluffing in an e-mail to multiple media outlets at a critical time in the negotiations.

On Jan. 6, the day the Yankees announced the acquisition of Teixeira, Henry sent a short e-mail to the Associated Press in which he all but accused Boras of failing to bargain in good faith.

"There was no mention of the Yankees, but we felt all along that they were going to get the last call," Henry wrote. "That's what you deal with in working with Scott."

It was unclear if the tension between Henry and Boras contributed to Varitek's request to meet with the Sox owner directly.

Boras could not be reached for comment, but it seems highly unlikely he would encourage a client to meet with any team without his presence, particularly at this stage of free agency.

The meeting between Henry and Varitek suggests that any discussion has reached a critical stage. In November, Varitek filed for free agency for the second time during his Sox career, but a poor season during which he batted .220 has left him with little or no leverage on the open market.

Furthermore, when the Sox offered Varitek salary arbitration last month, the club ensured a compensatory first-round draft pick from any club that signed him. Given Varitek's poor offensive season and his age - he will be 37 April 11 - his chances of securing a deal from another team have dwindled. During the winter meetings in December, the Dodgers and Tigers indicated they had no interest in Varitek largely because of the compensation.

After entering the offseason suggesting Varitek would be seeking a deal similar to that of Yankees catcher Jorge Posada following the 2007 season - four years, $52 million - Boras rejected the Sox' offer for salary arbitration.

Had Varitek accepted, he probably would have garnered a one-year deal worth $10 million to $12 million, giving him the chance to earn at least what he did last season ($10 million). He also would have had the opportunity for a more productive 2009 season, which might have allowed him far more leverage on the open market next fall.

Given the downturn in the market in the offseason, Varitek seems hard pressed to end up with even a one-year deal approaching anything near $10 million.

The Sox have four catchers on their 40-man roster - Josh Bard, Dusty Brown, George Kottaras, and Mark Wagner - though none seem prepared to handle the responsibilities of an everyday catcher. Although general manager Theo Epstein has said the Sox are prepared to enter the season with a corps of young catchers, the club has so much invested in a deep and talented pitching staff it seems terribly inefficient to have an inexperienced group of catchers.

"There's still some unfinished business," Epstein said last week when asked about the team's catching situation. "Jason's still out there. As I said at the beginning of the offseason, he has been a really important guy here, to this organization. By no means have we shut the door on him."

Clearly, Varitek has not shut the door on them, either.

Amalie Benjamin and Chad Finn of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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