Perhaps just as discouraging as losing Jason Varitek for more than a month is the prospect of watching an increasingly overmatched Doug Mirabelli on a nightly basis.
Dougie's going deep? Not so much.
Not to make the wound any sorer, but old friend Josh Bard is only hitting .348 in San Diego with a .421 on-base percentage in 60 games.
Giving up so early on Bard cannot be any more magnified than it is now, with Varitek being placed on the 15-day disabled list and headed for surgery to repair partially torn meniscus cartilage. Ken Huckaby got the callup yesterday, but the primary catching duties for the time being will go to Mirabelli, who is hitting just .189 with Boston this season in 30 games.
Bard was, of course, dealt for his inability to catch Tim Wakefield's knuckleball. After one month. It's anyone's guess how he might have been able to handle the job three months later, but even in the absence of Wakefield in the starting rotation, he'd be a pretty salivating option right about now.
What does it say for Mirabelli when his most memorable moment this season was arriving via police escort the night of Johnny Damon's return?
And so, just two days after the Major League Baseball trading deadline, Theo Epstein must go out and try to sneak a catcher in under waivers. (Psst, Theo. You're percentage points behind the Yankees, make another go at Clemens while you're at it and get him through, too. Convince Drayton McLane he's already lost the faith of his fans this season. Keeping Clemens isn't going to win it back.)
One realistic option would be Mike Lieberthal of the yard sale Phillies. Lieberthal, who can veto any deal, told the Philadelphia News yesterday that he would "probably" go to the Red Sox. He has been on the disabled list twice already this season, and is batting .236 in 39 games. The catcher is a free agent at the end of the season.
But there is a situation in Baltimore that bears watching before rushing into any deal. Aggravated with his playing time, relegated to backup duty behind Ramon Hernandez, and the fact that he's still with the Orioles even after Monday's deadline, former All-Star Javy Lopez has asked the team for his release. Lopez is batting .265 with eight homers in 76 games, and has seen a significant decline in his power numbers over the past three seasons, going from 43 in 2003 to 23 in 2004 to 15 in 2005.
"I think that what makes more sense at the moment would be to put me on waivers so I can play somewhere else," Lopez told the Baltimore Sun. "That way the team would have less headaches in putting the lineup together every day and I'd be more comfortable playing somewhere else instead of once a week here."
Lopez would cost, but not much more than Lieberthal would in the end. If the Red Sox claimed Lopez off waivers, they would be responsible for the remainder of his $8.5 million salary (Lieberthal makes $7.5 million this season). While the Orioles have not been able to find a trade partner for Lopez (even offering to pay a chunk of his salary), the Red Sox could claim him and find a fill-in without having to give up value in return to the Phillies.
Other options may include Kelly Stinnett, recently released by the Yankees, and Chris Widger, just yesterday released by the White Sox. Neither seems a particularly attractive option for sure, but as the Globe’s Gordon Edes points out, the White Sox pitching staff had a 3.35 ERA when Widger was behind the plate last season, and the concern in Boston has to be, particularly with a worn-thin pitching staff already, how much the team will lose without Varitek's unparalleled game-calling skills.
But long-term, there has to be some extended concern over this current injury to the Red Sox captain. Varitek is 34, and signed for two more seasons at $10 million per. The last thing you want to hear about a guy who plays the bulk of the time crouched behind the plate is that he has a knee injury. Yet, the Red Sox can only look across the field this week and see Kelly Shoppach staring back at them.
And Josh Bard 3,000 miles away.
As much as the Red Sox boast they're a team built for the long-term, their catching situation is anything but.