Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek and owner John Henry met for approximately 90 minutes near the player’s Atlanta-area home Friday night, but it remains unclear as to whether Varitek is any closer to returning to the team.
Communicating via text message after the meeting, Varitek would say only that the meeting
“went OK” and that there was “nothing to report.” The Red Sox’ captain and longtime catcher said he met with Henry “to speak [about] how I feel” and answered “yes” when asked if his desire was to return to the team for the 2009 season.
Varitek declined comment when asked if the Red Sox similarly expressed a desire for him to return. He also declined to address any specifics as to why he remains unsigned less than four weeks before pitchers and catchers are due to report to spring training.
Late last night, Henry returned an e-mail declining comment.
“It wouldn’t be appropriate,” wrote the Red Sox owner.
According to a baseball source, it was Varitek who requested the meeting.
Earlier this offseason, Varitek filed for free agency for the second time in his career, with agent Scott Boras going so far as to suggest that the player might warrant a deal in the range of the four-year, $52 million package awarded catcher Jorge Posada by the New York Yankees following the 2007 campaign.
The market for Varitek has barely developed and the catcher might have forfeited an annual salary in the range of $10 million-$12 million when he turned down an arbitration offer from the Sox last month. He is coming off a four-year, $40 million deal he signed following the 2004 season.
By offering Varitek arbitration, the Sox also ensured that they would receive a compensatory first-round draft selection should he sign with another club. The existence of that pick, along with Boras’s insistence on a multi-year deal, has resulted in a virtually nonexistent market for the player, who batted .220 last season and will turn 37 on April 11.
Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said earlier this week that it is possible Varitek could return to Boston.
“There’s still some unfinished business,” Epstein said. “Jason’s still out there. As I said at the beginning of the offseason, he has been a really important guy here, to this organization. By no means have we shut the door on him. There’s still unfinished business there, and also in the pursuit of a younger catcher.”
Josh Bard, who was signed to a one-year non-guaranteed deal with an option earlier this offseason, is the only catcher on the team’s 40-man roster with significant major league experience. But the Sox view him as a backup. The other catchers are George Kottaras and Dusty Brown, neither of whom figures to be a major league starter this season.
Asked about Varitek’s decision to decline arbitration earlier this week, Epstein said, “That’s always the player’s decision. The player and agent get together and decide what’s in their best interest. But certainly it was something we were hoping he would have accepted and get him back under those terms. But that’s behind us now and we’ll see what happens next.
“We haven’t ruled anything in or anything out at this point.”