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Varitek exercises option to stay with Red Sox as backup

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / November 12, 2009

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CHICAGO - It will be in an unfamiliar role, that of a backup, but Jason Varitek has decided to return to the Red Sox for what could be his final season.

The 37-year-old catcher and team captain informed the Sox yesterday that he would exercise the option year in his contract rather than become a free agent. Varitek took all five days allotted before coming to that conclusion after consulting with agent Scott Boras.

“We’re happy to have Jason back and we look forward to a good year from him in 2010,’’ general manager Theo Epstein said. “He means an awful lot to the organization on and off the field. He helps solidify our catching position also and is a big asset to the pitching staff.

“We’re happy he decided to come back and stay in the organization that he’s such an important part of.’’

Efforts to reach Varitek for comment were unsuccessful.

The Sox declined their $5 million option on Varitek after he hit .209 with 14 home runs and 51 RBIs last season. But under the terms of a deal agreed to last January, Varitek also had an option.

Varitek will receive a $3 million base salary with an incentive clause based on games started.

He will receive $400,000 if he starts 80 games, plus an additional $400,000 for every 10 games started after that, through 120 games.

Epstein met with Boras for approximately 30 minutes Tuesday night during the general managers’ meetings at the O’Hare Airport Hilton. It is believed the agent tried to negotiate more favorable terms for his client, particularly the incentives.

“I’d rather not get into that,’’ Epstein said.

Had Varitek become a free agent, it is unlikely he could have commanded more than the $3 million he had guaranteed in Boston. The Red Sox almost certainly would have sought a younger player rather than pursue Varitek as a free agent.

Varitek started 106 games last season but only 28 after the Sox acquired Victor Martinez from the Cleveland Indians on July 31.

The two catchers initially split time before Martinez was designated as the starter and caught every inning of the Division Series against the Los Angeles Angels.

Epstein has said several times that the club viewed Martinez as its full-time catcher, a position he reiterated Monday. Martinez, who turns 31 next month, hit .336 with 8 homers and 41 RBIs for the Sox over 56 games.

Varitek has hit .215 with a .313 on-base percentage and a .374 slugging percentage since the start of the 2008 season. But he has maintained his reputation as one of the game’s most thorough catchers when it comes to game preparation and working with pitchers.

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