FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Red Sox captain Jason Varitek said he was happy to be back and confident he could turn his career around after a long and arduous offseason filled with doubt and angst on whether he'd return as the Red Sox' starting catcher.
But Varitek thinks through his hard work this offseason, trying to simplify his swing and feeling healthy, he should set himself up for a successful season while also expressing hope that he could retire in a Red Sox uniform.
Certainly talks between Varitek's agent, Scott Boras, and the team were nonexistent at times this winter, but a meeting with John Henry late in the process seemed to pick up the pace and the sides began to compromise. The end game was a one-year $5 million deal and an option, which also included incentives.
"I wouldn't say there wasn't any doubt," said Varitek today when asked if he thought he was definitely returning, "but there was no doubt in what I wanted and what my heart wanted. This is where I always wanted to be. I continued to do what I had to do. I had to train ... I had to go through those things regardless of what was going on. Career-wise I still had to put myself in a position to play baseball."
And now that he's back in uniform, "I'm just glad at this point that it's over with. I'm ecstatic that I'm a Red Sox. I'm ecstatic that I have the peace of mind that I'll be in this uniform and closer to retiring in this uniform. Not saying I see retirement anytime soon, but it allows me the opportunity to do what's most important to wear the 'C' for this group of fans and this organization. We spent a lot of time building championships."
Up until Varitek met with Henry there had been little-to-no dialogue between the sides. The Red Sox were exploring other catching solutions and seemed content to do so. Boras's demands had obviously come down from the Jorge Posada money (4 years, $52.4 million) he had envisioned for Varitek, but the Red Sox were very strong about holding their ground on one year at half the pay Varitek had played for in 2008 ($10 million).
Varitek and Boras took a lot of heat for refusing arbitration and they were accused of misreading the market. Things looked dire, with little or no interest in the catcher, though Varitek reiterated today that he asked Boras to keep exploring all possibilities with the Red Sox before he negotiated with other teams.
Then the Henry meeting came.
While it's hard for Varitek to assess how important the meeting was he said, "I think you'd really have to ask Mr. Henry that. The situation may have accelerated some things. I have an agent that talks for me. And in that situation I felt I needed to get involved. Maybe it did help, but I can't say for sure. I just know that finally it gets me back in this uniform. It gives me the opportunity to retire in this uniform."
Varitek, however, said he has no regrets about his decision and the manner in which his negotiations were handled.
"Not really. Ultimately I got what was important to me -- to be able to maintain legacy and the opportunity to be here and know there's a commitment back from this organization that I'm going to be here," he said. "And that was the most important thing to me from the get-go. I"m just happy. I'm happy that I'm here. I'm a part of this organization still. Happy to have the opportunity with what this team has coming into camp. To get back and win another championship."
Varitek has spent a lot of time working on his lefthanded swing.
"I've taken a lot of steps. There's different parts. The fact of the matter is I struggled lefthanded with different parts of it...I worked on things this winter. I make my job harder offensively at times," he said.
Varitek won't go into decisions Terry Francona will make in the future concerning playing time, being pinch-hit for etc. Francona did say during his press briefing that pinch-hitting for Varitek is something he did in the postseason last year, but he warned not to look for it during the regular season. The Red Sox were going to commit to catching Josh Bard 100 games before Varitek signed, so it would reason Bard gets playing time beyond catching Tim Wakefield, which is currently the plan.
"I can't play that way," said Varitek about trying to guess on how he'll be handled. "But I also have to play with the ability to give the manager his respect. He's our manager and he's going to make his decisions. It's just like when my name is not in the lineup that day, or the night before when they decide someone else is going to catch that day. That's the manager's decision."
He added, "I've always functioned that way and I'm going to continue to function that way ... I don't look for that to happen. I don't look over my shoulder for something like that to happen. I'm going to help this team ... I'm very confident. The way I looked at things I had some rough spots and also some real good spots. I think its been the case my whole career that I can make things a little tougher. So the more I can simplify offensively the better I'm going to be."
Confident he can turn things around?
"I believe so. I had a productive winter as far as training and as far as gaining my strength back. I worked on agility. I went through a throwing program. Worked on my hitting. I'm in a good place right now."
Varitek said even though the business aspect of what happened was tough, he said it has not changed the way he approaches the game.
"I'm a player and they're management. So either way, I can't walk away from this and not be the same person and not go out there and work my tail off with other catchers or with other position players. That doesn't change what I do. Now the important thing is that it's over with. I'm happy. I have the ability to be here this year and know the door is open for me to be here next year."