Backup plan

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.

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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.