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Varitek returns to Sox

One-year deal is for $2 million

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / December 3, 2010

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CAP CANA, Dominican Republic — David Ortiz was greeting guests at his charity event here yesterday when he heard that the Red Sox had agreed to terms with catcher Jason Varitek on a one-year contract.

“That’s like hearing my brother is coming back,’’ Ortiz said. “He is part of the family and it’s important for us to have him on the team. That is really good news.’’

Beltre’s preference: Sox. C2

The Sox have yet to announce the deal, but major league sources said Varitek accepted $2 million, with an additional $300,000 available through incentive clauses. The Associated Press reported the incentives breakdowns: $100,000 each for 60, 70 and 80 games started at catcher.

Efforts to reach Varitek were unsuccessful.

Like Ortiz, Sox reliever Daniel Bard was thrilled to hear that the captain was coming back.

“I love when he’s behind the plate,’’ said Bard. “It’s a comfortable feeling. Having him is like having another pitching coach with everything he knows. A lot of guys are going to be very happy to hear this.’’

Next season will be Varitek’s 15th with the Sox. He will turn 39 in April and is coming off a season that saw him play only 39 games because of a broken right foot.

But with Victor Martinez abandoning the Sox to sign a five-year deal with Detroit, the team appears comfortable with Jarrod Saltalamacchia doing the bulk of the catching and Varitek serving as his backup and mentor.

Both are switch-hitters, but Varitek is a career .279 hitter against lefthanded pitchers with an .830 OPS. Saltalamacchia is stronger against righthanders, posting a career average of .273 with a .765 OPS.

It would be unreasonable to suggest that Saltalamacchia and Varitek could give the Sox the same offensive production as Martinez, an All-Star who hit .302 with 20 home runs and 79 RBIs last season. But the belief among Sox decision-makers is that Saltalamacchia and Varitek will compensate with better defense and a better feel for the staff.

“Tek’s knowledge is something we wouldn’t be able to replace had he left,’’ Bard said. “He’s going to mean a lot to Salty. I would bet those guys will work well together.’’

The Sox were impressed with how easily Varitek converted to a backup role behind Martinez last season after spending the previous 11 seasons as a starter. That also factored into the decision.

“He’s invaluable,’’ manager Terry Francona said last month. “He’s a big part of what we do and that didn’t change because he wasn’t playing as often.’’

Saltalamacchia, 25, was acquired from the Rangers at the July 31 trade deadline last season but played in only 10 games for the Sox, in part because of a torn thumb ligament.

Once considered a top catching prospects, his career has taken a downturn in recent years. But the Sox had long coveted Saltalamacchia.

“He has a chance to be very good,’’ Ortiz said. “He can call a good game and he’s a big guy with some power. It looks like he’s going to get a chance, and I know one thing: He’ll have a good teacher in Tek.

“I think we’re going to be OK there. We’re keeping it in the family.’’

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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