Dan Shaughnessy

Sox could avoid loss with a save

With neither side backing down, the Red Sox are currently without their starting catcher and Jason Varitek (with pitcher Justin Masterson) is without a team. With three weeks until pitchers and catchers report, time is running out for the Sox to sign a deal with their captain. (Globe Staff / Barry Chin) With neither side backing down, the Red Sox are currently without their starting catcher and Jason Varitek (with pitcher Justin Masterson) is without a team. With three weeks until pitchers and catchers report, time is running out for the Sox to sign a deal with their captain.
By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / January 23, 2009
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It's all about saving face.

Saving facemask, if you will.

Pitchers and catchers report to Fort Myers, Fla., in three weeks, and I say Jason Varitek will be one of the Red Sox catchers.

Of course, I'm the same guy who thought the Arizona Cardinals would lose to the Falcons, Panthers, and Eagles (wrong, wrong, and wrong). I thought LeBron James was overrated as a high schooler, and I resisted getting a cellphone for more than a decade because I thought it was a fad.

OK, so I'm no Nostradamus (which sounds like a double negative, but it isn't). I still say the captain is back when camp starts. It simply makes sense.

Varitek has no job. The Sox have no starting catcher. Varitek wants to come back. The Sox want him back (on their terms).

So it has to happen.

At this juncture, ego is getting in the way of common sense. Ego on both sides of the table.

Varitek is a proud man. He's played 12 big league seasons, won two World Series, caught four no-hitters, and played more games behind the plate than any other catcher in Sox history. He was named captain of the Red Sox before the 2005 season and just completed a four-year, $40 million contract.

There's no disputing the notion that his offensive skills have eroded. Varitek hit .225 after the All-Star break in 2007 and .220 all of last year. He hit only 13 homers and knocked in a mere 43 runs. He was an automatic out from the left side. Terry Francona pinch hit for him a couple of times during the American League Championship Series. He turns 37 April 11, and sometimes it looks like his bat might calcify in mid-swing.

But we know about the intangibles. The game-calling. The preparation. The clubhouse presence. The leadership. There's value in all of that, especially when the other catchers on the roster are Josh Bard, George Kottaras, and Dusty Brown.

The non-negotiations involving the ball club and its longtime catcher got off to a bad start right after the season. That's when loathsome agent Scott Boras talked about Varitek getting Jorge Posada money (four years, $52 million). It was a stupid remark and a harbinger of Boras's poor read of the tea leaves in this combustible economic climate.

The list of once-great players without teams is impressive: Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, Ivan Rodriguez, Tom Glavine, Pedro Martínez, Barry Bonds.

Oh, let's not forget Manny Ramírez - another player suddenly team-less because Boras got greedy.

John Henry and Larry Lucchino despise Boras. It was the diabolical Boras who orchestrated Manny's bowser act on the way out of town last summer. Then the agent tried to play the Sox for suckers in the Mark Teixeira debacle. The Sox have dealt with Boras before (Daisuke Matsuzaka and J.D. Drew ring a bell?) and they will deal with him again, but given the agent's horrendous handling of Varitek's situation, the club no doubt is enjoying seeing the superagent sweat as we get closer to spring training.

Varitek rejected salary arbitration - a move that is going to cost him millions in 2009. This was yet another bad read by the catcher and his agent. Had Varitek agreed to arbitration, the Sox would have been forced to pay him in the $10 million-$12 million range for one season. Now that's gone and any team that signs Varitek will be docked a first-round draft pick.

But there are no teams out there. There is no market for the 37-year-old, .220-hitting backstop who will also cost a top prospect. Not in this climate.

Which means Varitek and Boras are walking toward Boston with their hats in hands. The catcher requested and was granted a 90-minute audience with the Red Sox owner last week in Atlanta.

It would be fun to squeeze Boras, expose his blunder - maybe even nudge the captain to fire his agent. But the Sox still need Varitek. It's in their best interest to get something done that will allow the catcher to come back without total loss of face.

This is when it's a good time to have bloodless Theo Epstein around. The general manager is cool under pressure. He won't let his anger over Manny and Teixeira carry over into this situation. Much as the Sox would enjoy it, this is no time to tell Boras to take a flying leap into Lake Quinsigamond. This is no time for I-told-you-sos.

Though it's tempting to be petty and vindictive, this is the time to get a deal done that works for the team and enables Varitek to carry his head high into camp. Reward him for past contributions. Put together a deal that makes it look like something less than capitulation.

How come this always happens with the Sox and their catchers? The Sox lost Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk when Haywood Sullivan, a catcher turned doofus owner, forgot to mail Fisk's contract after the 1980 season. In the spring of 1987, the Sox had to play a month without All-Star catcher Rich Gedman because of bollixed negotiations. Geddy was never the same and his absence torpedoed Boston's AL title defense.

Now there is another sensitive situation with a veteran catcher. The captain. And the Sox must find a way to bring him back - on their terms - without humiliation.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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