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For Varitek, offer may have a catch

Veteran might prefer 1-year deal from Sox

By Tony Massarotti
Globe Staff / January 27, 2009
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While a baseball source has confirmed that Jason Varitek would earn $5 million this year under terms of the Red Sox' latest offer - which includes a second-year option - the question now is whether the veteran catcher might be better served with a straight one-year deal instead.

Under the terms of a proposal made by the Sox last week, Varitek would earn $5 million this year, with the club holding a $5 million option for 2010. Should the club decline that option, Varitek then would have the option to return to the team at a salary of $3 million, placing the player's minimum guaranteed earnings over the next two seasons at $8 million, or an average of $4 million.

According to another baseball source, one of the downsides of the offer from Varitek's perspective is that it would not necessarily reward him if he has a strong 2009. On a straight one-year deal, Varitek then could re-enter the free agent market next season in hopes of securing more than $5 million, the maximum amount he could earn in 2010 under the Sox' existing offer.

While it is unclear if the Sox would agree to a straight one-year proposal, the club did offer Varitek salary arbitration in December, an alternative that effectively would have produced a one-year contract. Varitek and agent Scott Boras dismissed arbitration, partly because the player wanted a two-year contract, partly because an arbitration award would have been non-guaranteed had the matter reached a hearing.

Had Varitek accepted arbitration, he likely would have ended up with a 2009 salary in the range of $10 million, though there was that chance the sum would have been non-guaranteed. The subsequent downturn in the market now has left Varitek looking at half that amount, raising questions about the decision to forgo arbitration.

The Sox' proposal contains standard award incentives (for MVP, Silver Slugger, and honors of that sort) that could increase the value of the package slightly, but there are no incentives based on the player's health or playing time, both of which are often staples of incentive-laden contracts. It could be that the Sox want to avoid such incentives to prevent manager Terry Francona from being caught in a difficult situation.

Varitek has been presented with a deadline on the current offer, though the date of that deadline is unclear. Pitchers and catchers are due to report to Fort Myers, Fla., for spring training Feb. 12.

In 1997, for example, Sox manager Jimy Williams and general manager Dan Duquette were on opposite sides when pitcher Steve Avery approached an incentive based on games started. Williams ultimately won and started Avery against Duquette's wishes, triggering the incentive and guaranteeing Avery's contract for the following year.

Williams's actions in that instance were driven by a similar experience in Toronto, when he followed the wishes of upper management and resisted using Blue Jays reliever Dennis Lamp in certain situations for fear of triggering a contract incentive. Lamp grieved the matter and won, only adding to Williams's level of discomfort with the circumstances.

Tony Massarotti can be reached at tmassarotti@globe.com and can be read at www.boston.com/massarotti

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