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Backup plan

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff January 27, 2009 08:47 AM

Stop it, stop it, stop it.

Please.

At this point, I don’t care if the Red Sox offered Jason Varitek a one-year deal, five-year deal, or the Tim Wakefield rollover plan. Sign. Or, don’t sign. Just please do it yesterday.

Of all the stories that have dominated the winter sporting headlines, I have to tell you this is the one that interests me the least. That whole “handling of the pitchers” aside, I couldn't really care less if Jason Varitek is back with Boston for 2009. And, wait . . . beyond? Ay.

The Red Sox have reportedly offered their captain a one-year, $5 million deal, with a 2010 player option for $3 million, or a team option for $5 million, with the message of “Take it, or leave it.” It seems, based on all we’ve learned this season, the winter when Scott Boras dim-wittingly didn’t understand a recession affects everyone, Varitek’s options are these: 1) Take the deal. 2) Retire.

We could argue well and good that the latter is really the avenue better suited for a guy past his prime at the plate, if not behind it where he retains an exaggerated reputation of molding young, dumb fireballers into the game’s most complete pitchers. Wait, how many Cy Youngs have the Red Sox staff won since Varitek’s arrival in 1997?

That would be two, both by a lanky Dominican who already came to town with one in tow. Now, perhaps that’s an unfair assessment (OK, it is) of Varitek’s skills, for frankly, guys from Curt Schilling to Josh Beckett will repeatedly implore how important he is back there. Then again, what are they going to say? “Eh, he’s all right. But I bet could do just as well with Corky Miller.”

Varitek’s days as a No. 1 catcher are gone, soon to be replaced by TBD in your daily program. Maybe Josh Bard is what we thought he was before being sent away as a bit part in the most ridiculous 12-hour circus in the past decade of Red Sox annals (Doug Mirabelli’s Wild Ride). Maybe George Kottaras is ready to blossom. Maybe there’s a deal for Jarrod Saltamacchia on the table.

Any of that sound promising? Of course not, which is why the Red Sox are stuck in this position in the first place, offering their old catcher $8 million more than they should. I ask those of you clamoring to bring him back, you looking forward to more of the offensive incompetence you got in 2008? Because it’s difficult to assume that you’re going to get anything different. But I guess if slasher Jason can make one more, inexplicable comeback next month, what's to stop another one from assuming he can do the same?

As colleague Chad Finn pointed out yesterday, “He's batted .222 in 614 at-bats since the All-Star break in 2007 -- a full year-and-a-half, which tells you that this isn't a slump or a trend, but the cruel reality.” Dusty Brown couldn’t hit that for a fraction of the cost?

No, the Red Sox find themselves overpaying for a name, in this case, their captain, who no doubt feels wronged by the organization, his agent, and whatever else caused him to lose $5 million in salary this year alone. The option gives the Red Sox some assurance that they’ll have a body to plug in there through 2010, after which they can get into another Mark Teixeira -like silent auction with the Yankees for Joe Mauer’s services.

Is there any doubt that if he didn’t wear the “C” on his chest, that the Red Sox would have long forgotten about their aged product? For an organization that has prided itself on being ruthless in order to get younger, these negotiations reek of dubious business sense. Had the Red Sox developed a catcher over the past five years in their system worthy of taking the torch, John Henry wouldn’t be in this position. And yet, it was the team’s nomination of him as captain that has also backed them into a corner, not willing to take a PR hit for saying sayonara to one of the team’s most popular figures.

If they took the pulse of the majority of Red Sox fans though, they’d come to find out not too many are willing to see this act for another season. Their bandwagon is open, and sure to take on plenty in the coming months of May, June, and July, as Varitek continues to prove his bat is gone, taking up more space on the bench than behind the plate. What better way for fans to remember the good ol’ times than to watch one of the franchise’s best catchers deteriorate before their very eyes, a la Jim Rice.

No, this isn’t an offer for a vital player, but for a de facto player-coach, a guy that they think can still mold young pitching, while helping out whoever might be the catcher of the future, or the next two seasons until the Winter of Mauer. If Varitek, somehow, in late January, still thinks there’s a better deal on the table somewhere, and rejects the Red Sox’ offer, then we can only wonder what date the retirement press conference will be.

Fifty-thousand more people could lose jobs today too, for all we know, most of whom probably wouldn’t think twice about a guaranteed $8 million staring back at them like some freaky stack of Geico cash. And while we can argue all night whether or not he’s worth that kind of money at age 37, I think we can all agree that he’ll accept the offer. Nobody’s going to match it, and there’s certainly nothing better out there for Varitek to jump at.

Sure, there’s a hypocritical nature of declaring you’ve heard enough, and then writing 1,000 words about why it is you’ve heard enough, only adding to the 4,565,983 words that have been dedicated to the subject of Varitek this month alone. I’m not apologizing (OK, a little), just want to make it known I am self-aware of the matter.

Let’s just hope the catcher is of his own situation. Take the deal. Or don’t. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter anymore.

22 comments so far...
  1. They have developed a catcher in the past 5 years, unfortunately he plays for the Indians because we HAD to have Coco Crisp. Ugghh.

    Posted by Brian January 27, 09 09:29 AM
  1. I know the front office probably didn't get to watch the playoffs last year because they were too caught up in re-runs of Steve Harvey. Therefore, I'd be more than happy to explain to them why the Sox didn't advance to the World Series--lack of offense. So why on earth would you bring back Varitek? ESPECIALLY considering how loyal Tito is to vets. We can only hope that during his at bats this year that they play his career highlights up on the big screen b/c forcing us to watch his actual at bats has to be what Obama was talking about when he said the US will not torture.

    Posted by Varitank January 27, 09 09:52 AM
  1. What option at catcher would you prefer?

    Posted by Jeff January 27, 09 11:08 AM
  1. At this point I'd take Tony Pena. At least then I could marvel at the way he sits behind the plate and throws out runners from his keester. Let's just say this is a move that someone like, say, Bill Belichick wouldn't make. This is purely for sentimental reasons.

    Posted by Varitank January 27, 09 11:35 AM
  1. I would agree with all this if there was a remotely better choice out there. Id rather pay 'Tek a couple bucks too much than just bring in Joe Whatever.
    PS: its "couldn't care less."

    Posted by SG January 27, 09 12:45 PM
  1. Take a look at catchers around the league. I'm not just talking about available ones. Look at all of them and tell me how many of them you actually think are good. The bottom line is there is a huge dearth of catchers who actually add anything to the offensive line-up. Defense and game calling are very important.

    Posted by J-Bone January 27, 09 12:57 PM
  1. Brian said it best, Shoppach for CoCo was a disaster.

    Posted by mudpie January 27, 09 01:29 PM
  1. Blah, blah, blah....So Eric you are so sick of it that you felt the need to write yet another blog/column on it? There's aren't enough already? That makes a whole lot of sense! Slow sports news day with the Patriots not in the Super Bowl?

    I have never heard so much Tek-bashing - you would think this paper and it's fans were in the heart of Yankees country, not Boston! How pathetic you all are!

    Posted by EricD January 27, 09 01:36 PM
  1. Agree absolutely with Jeff, SG, and J-Bone. There's no better option out there. The next best options are all all prospects who may (or may not) be terrific in a couple years. For '09, we need someone who already knows how to catch.

    One more comment, on a line from this blog entry: "Is there any doubt that if he didn’t wear the “C” on his chest, that the Red Sox would have long forgotten about their aged product?" Do you have any idea how funny that statement actually is? They don't remember him because he wears the "C." They gave him the "C" because he's worth remembering. You may as well say, "they'd have forgotten him if he weren't such a good catcher and a great team leader." True, but meaningless.

    Posted by CCAE January 27, 09 02:02 PM
  1. JOE MAUER in 2 YEARS

    Posted by SKills January 27, 09 02:15 PM
  1. JOE MAUER in 2 YEARS

    Posted by SKills January 27, 09 02:15 PM
  1. Sign him fro 2 years........

    Get Joe Mauer in 2 years.....

    End of Story

    Posted by hamburglar January 27, 09 03:55 PM
  1. Mauer in 2 years? Sox will never outbid the yankees. They will need a catcher too. The yankees will make John Henry look cheap again.

    Posted by Soxs fan 16 January 27, 09 07:05 PM
  1. $5 Million for a rally killer who can't hit, can't run, can't throw anymore, and has been hitting Mendoza numbers for the past 2 years? The Red Sox are way too generous. Give him until Wed. at noon, and every hour he doesn't take the offer reduce it by $100,000, until Saturday...70,000 more Americans lost there jobs yesterday. I lost mine last week...Tell this self absorbed has been to take a hike...
    ..sign a young catcher and the Sox should give the salary they were going to be stuck with for him to Charity...

    Posted by Bill Wright January 27, 09 07:38 PM
  1. Eric, you are an idiot. Judging from your comments you never played the game at a remotely competitive level. Every player on that team says he needs to come back... but you (a crappy writer) think he needs to retire. Once again... you are an idiot.

    Posted by Joe January 27, 09 10:24 PM
  1. Eric. excellent article, right on the money!!! His "catching prowess" is so over rated. He had basically veterans to catch. Lester may have benefited by Varitek but what about Buchholz? Where did he end up? "He calls " agreat game. Please save thet for the neophites of the world. I hope he declines the offer and theo searches for that younger option.

    Posted by Russ in Methuen January 28, 09 09:13 AM
  1. totally agree Eric ... we all LOVE Jason Varitek and all he's brought to the franchise, the team and the city ... but for the love of elevation, come'on Tek, this offer is more than fair and this whole fiasco is starting to be pretty distasteful ... paleeez, sign on the dotted line and end this off-season circus that YOUR agent created ... this SB is a real piece of work huh ... what a scumbag !

    Posted by fl-panhandle-fan January 28, 09 10:11 AM
  1. The problem with all this is that the Redsox knew 4 years ago that they would be in this position and did nothing or were able to do nothing about it. I don't know what makes anyone think Mauer is coming to Boston in two years the yankees can and will out bid anyone in the market for any player they want. The redsox need to grow or trade for their own catcher. For now they need to sign Varitek or bite the bullet and go with what they got. I'd like to give Bucholtz one more shot before I ship himoff. The thing with Saltamacchia is that the braves traded him and the braves are very schrew traders so buyer beware.

    Posted by Bob Allen January 28, 09 10:44 AM
  1. Sign Pudge for 3M and an option. At least he will put a .275/12/65 batting ninth and can still throw people out.

    Posted by Noel Vega January 28, 09 11:31 AM
  1. Joe Mauer in 2 years is no gaurantee. Just because you have plenty of money to sign a free agent that doesn't mean you will. Mark Texeira ring a bell? It seems to me the Yankees will also be in desperate in need of a catcher in 2 years...

    Posted by Scott January 28, 09 12:23 PM
  1. Mauer is from St. Paul. He's been a legend in the state of Minnesota since he was 12yrs old. It's no gimme that he doesn't resign w/ the Twins.

    Posted by Zack January 29, 09 10:03 AM
  1. Last two posters, I'm with you and then some. People who think the Sox can just go and grab Mauer have the hubris of Yankee fans. The day the Twins passed on polished Mark Prior to take local legend Mauer in the draft was the day they pegged the kid to be their franchise guy. Let Santana, Hunter, even Mauer go, but I'd bet the house that they'll do whatever they need to to keep him (plus, I bet Mauer will take less to stick there too).
    As a Red Sox fan, but also a baseball fan, it would depress me to see Mauer in a Sox uniform (though pinstripes would be worse).
    Also, Noel, you do realize that Tek can hit .222 and still have the same OBP as Pudge, right? Plus, he has a rep of being selfish and one of the worst "game callers" in the game...so much so that Mussina wouldn't even pitch to him last year. Pass.

    Posted by Peter January 31, 09 05:49 PM
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