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Varitek and Wakefield: two tough calls

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  October 10, 2011 08:45 AM

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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. The are no indications that either player will make it easy on the team and announce their retirement. A decision 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 10 of 83 base-stealers. He also turns 40 in April and while 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 Lavanway's path.

WAKEFIELD
Pros: He threw 154.2 innings and there is value in that. The Red Sox, believe it or not, were 12-11 on the days he started. He has the rare ability to start a game at 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 ones. He's 45 and clearly wore down in games, giving up an .870 OPS in innings 4-6 of his starts. 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, it might seem like an easy decision. 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 Red 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 Red Sox keep Wakefield, or at least invite him to spring training with an incentive-laden deal. But with a new manager coming in and an apparent need for better leadership in the clubhouse, Varitek may be out of a job.

What's your take on this? Vote in our poll and feel free to leave a comment.


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