Take it or leave it

Well, now we’ll find out.

Jason Varitek has been an admired member of the Boston Red Sox for a dozen years. In some minds, he’s been the face of the franchise. But never will we learn more about the man’s true priorities — not to mention the depth of his pride — than in the coming days.

The Red Sox have a formal contract offer on the table to the soon-to-be-37-year-old catcher, and by initial appearances it is a generous one given the circumstances. The Red Sox have proposed a one-year deal for $5 million, with the team holding an option for the same amount for 2010. Should the club not pick up the option, he would still have the opportunity to return at a $3 million salary. In essence, the offer guarantees him $8 million over the next two seasons.

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Yes, it’s a sizable pay cut from the $10,442,000 he made last year in the final year of the four-year, $40 million deal he signed following the 2004 season. But with all sentiment removed from the equation, this much is true: It’s more money than he’s worth at this stage of his baseball career.

I’ve written this countless times this offseason during this seemingly never-ending story, so what’s once more? The days when Varitek was a useful member of a lineup are gone, and they’re not coming back. 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. If he hits .240 in the coming season, chances are he got a lifetime’s worth of gorks, dying quails, and groundballs with eyes.

It cannot have escaped agent Scott Boras’s notice that Gregg Zaun — a soon-to-be-38-year-old whose adjusted OPS was 14 points higher than Varitek’s last season — settled for a one-year, $1.5 million deal with Baltimore. That is the market for useful but declining catchers, and they should be grateful that the Red Sox are apparently — and uncharacteristically — willing to pay him for services rendered while allowing him to save face after some dubious decisions.

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It’s not like he has any other realistic option but to accept the Red Sox’ bid. It’s been apparent for a while now that Varitek and the dastardly Boras severely misread the market for his services. (It’s somewhat stunning that Boras hasn’t whispered into the ear of one of his media lackeys saying the Yankees are interested, just to amp up the buzz.) Perhaps Varitek overrated the value of his own skills/intangibles in his own mind. Certainly the player and his agent made a tremendous tactical blunder in rejecting arbitration, and don’t for a minute believe the revisionist history and agent-speak that he didn’t know a first-round compensatory pick was attached. They simply believed some team thought he was worth the price. No one does. Maybe MLB general managers aren’t as collectively clueless as we think.
There are many logical reasons for Varitek to accept the deal. Boston is familiar to him, comfortable, his baseball home. His legacy is with the Red Sox. Terry Francona is overly loyal to his veterans, so it’s assured he’ll get significant playing time even if a young catcher is acquired in a deal. And he has a great rapport with pitchers who, seemingly to a man, appreciate his knowledge and dedication.
It’s the best place for him — heck, it looks like it’s the only place for him. The Red Sox have apparently put a deadline on the offer. Finally and at last, we’ll get some answers, and find out about something about his true character as well.
The Red Sox have made Jason Varitek a more than fair offer. We’ll see if he can refuse.
If he does, it tells us all we need to know:
It’s not about pride in the uniform or being a great teammate and dedicated captain.
It’s about the money and the contract and the delusional belief that a better proposal will come. And nothing more.

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