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Red Sox have intriguing decisions with Varitek, Wakefield

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / October 11, 2011

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Here’s a tough question for the general manager of the Red Sox , whoever that is by the end of the week:

What do you do with Jason Varitek and Tim Wakefield?

Both have said they want to play next season and they want to play for the Red Sox. There are no indications that either player will make it easy on the team and announce his retirement. Decisions will have to be made.

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons for each player.

VARITEK

Pros: As backup catchers go, he’s about average at the plate. He had a .723 OPS in 68 games, which was better than what the Yankees got out of Francisco Cervelli (.719) in 43 games. He still calls a good game, he’s Josh Beckett’s security blanket, and teammates swear by him.

Cons: Varitek threw out only 12 of 85 base stealers. He also turns 40 in April, and though he is in tremendous shape, catchers that age are prone to breaking down. The next manager will not hold the same reverence for him that Terry Francona did. Assuming the Sox do not carry three catchers, he is blocking Ryan Lavarnway’s path.

WAKEFIELD

Pros: He threw 154 2/3 innings and there is value in that. The Red Sox, believe it or not, were 12-11 in games he started. He has the ability to start a game at a moment’s notice and can throw 2-3 innings in relief during blowouts.

Cons: Wakefield had a 5.12 ERA and a 1.36 WHIP, so those innings weren’t particularly effective. He’s 45 and clearly wore down in games, giving up an .870 OPS in innings 4-6. His tortured pursuit of 200 victories became a drag on the team, something that his pursuit of the franchise career wins record could turn into.

Wakefield has been with the Red Sox for 17 seasons and Varitek for 15. These are guys who are active in the community and have made a lot of friends in Boston. Letting them go means severing longstanding emotional bonds.

From a baseball standpoint, they might seem like easy decisions. But the question to ask is whether the Sox can do better. Lavarnway would seem certain to produce more offensively, but is he ready for the challenge behind the plate? In Wakefield’s case, can the Sox find a reliever capable of making 10-15 starts if needed?

Only 45 pitchers in the American League threw more innings than Wakefield last season.

Prediction: The Sox keep Wakefield, or at least invite him to spring training with an incentive-laden deal. But with a new manger coming in and an apparent need for better leadership in the clubhouse, Varitek may be out of a job.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com.

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