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Comebacker for Varitek

Catcher returning to Red Sox - but strictly on their terms

By Tony Massarotti
Globe Staff / January 31, 2009
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From the pursuit of Mark Teixeira to the retention of Jason Varitek, the Red Sox' offseason effectively drew to a close yesterday. The team's roster is all but set, the relationship with its captain preserved.

On the day of a team-mandated deadline, the Sox reached agreement with Varitek yesterday afternoon on a one-year, $5 million contract for the 2009 season, according to multiple baseball sources. The deal includes a dual second-year option that allows the Sox to retain Varitek for $5 million in 2010; should the Sox decline the option, Varitek can exercise a right to return for a guaranteed $3 million, with the chance to earn an additional $2 million in incentives.

According to a source familiar with the negotiations, Varitek can earn the incentives only if he (and not the team) exercises the option, leaving the maximum value of the deal at $10 million. Under the terms of the agreement, Varitek will earn $400,000 at each plateau for starting 80, 90, 100, 110, and 120 games in 2010.

Those incentives, said multiple sources familiar with the negotiations, ensure Varitek will be paid a salary more commensurate with a starting player if the Sox need him to fill that role beyond 2009.

The Sox did not announce the deal because the agreement is contingent upon Varitek passing a physical next week.

According to a team source, Varitek and general manager Theo Epstein spoke via telephone late Thursday night to help bridge the gap. Sox officials finalized the deal with agent Scott Boras just after the 8:30 a.m. deadline.

That deadline, according to a source in the Varitek camp, was established by the club in a letter sent via registered mail dated Jan. 22. According to the source, copies were delivered to Varitek and Boras at 8:30 a.m. Jan. 23, specifying that Varitek had "one week" to reply.

Varitek's discussion with Epstein was the second one-on-one conversation the player had with a team official in the last two weeks. On Jan. 16, Varitek had a 90-minute meeting with owner John Henry near Varitek's Atlanta-area home, a session the catcher requested with the hope of reopening dialogue between the team and Boras.

Relations between the Sox and Boras had become strained in the wake of the Teixeira negotiations. The day Teixeira's eight-year, $180 million agreement with the Yankees was announced, Henry sent an e-mail to the Associated Press saying the Sox always expected the Yankees to get "last call" because "that's what you deal with in working with Scott."

By that stage, Varitek and Boras had long since rejected the Sox' offer of salary arbitration, a decision that might have cost Varitek millions. Although an arbitration award could have resulted in nonguaranteed earnings, Varitek could have ended up with a 2009 salary in the $10 million range - a number equal to his 2008 earnings in base salary and prorated bonus money.

Instead, Varitek's maximum salary is $10 million for the next two seasons combined, though he can earn slightly more in standard award bonuses (such as Most Valuable Player).

With Varitek secured, the Sox now have much-needed experience in a catching corps that includes Josh Bard, George Kottaras, Dusty Brown, and Mark Wagner. Bard, who was signed in the offseason at a nonguaranteed salary of $1.7 million, is the likeliest candidate to serve as Varitek's backup, though that probably will be determined after pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, Fla., Feb. 12 for spring training.

In the longer term, the Varitek signing gives the Sox valuable time to search for a long-term replacement, something the club still hopes to accomplish through trade. According to a baseball source, the Sox still could make a deal for a young, developing catcher before the season.

The Sox' most serious discussions for a catcher have taken place with the Texas Rangers (for Jarrod Saltalamacchia) and the Arizona Diamondbacks (for Miguel Montero), but Boston found the asking prices too high. That made it more critical for the Sox to lock up Varitek, who is highly regarded by pitchers, coaches, and managers, and has been with the team since a trade from Seattle in July 1997.

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

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