Roughly three months after the end of their 2008 season and fewer than three weeks before the start of spring training, the Red Sox have made a formal proposal to catcher and captain Jason Varitek that could end a winterlong stalemate.
One way or the other.
According to a baseball source, the Sox have formally presented an offer to Varitek's agent, Scott Boras, that could appease the catcher's desire for a second guaranteed season. While the precise value or term of the proposal was unclear, the Sox could ensure Varitek a second year by guaranteeing it outright or making it attainable through an option.
In the latter scenario, Varitek could trigger the option through reachable incentives (like at-bats or games played), or the club could grant him a player option for the 2010 season. Another possibility would involve a dual option, first giving the Sox the choice of bringing back Varitek next season (at a higher number) and, subsequently, Varitek the right to return of his own volition (at a lower number than the team's option).
In 2006, former closer Keith Foulke had a contract with a dual option. The Sox declined to exercise their option ($7.5 million) before Foulke similarly declined his ($3.75 million) and opted for free agency.
Varitek earned $10 million last season in base salary and a prorated share of his signing bonus, an amount he almost certainly will not reach this offseason in a one-year deal. From the beginning of negotiations, multiple sources have indicat ed that Varitek has wanted at least a two-year deal, something that helps bring into focus many of the happenings over the last few months.
In December, for instance, Varitek and Boras rejected the Sox' offer of salary arbitration, a process that might have earned Varitek a $10 million-$12 million salary in 2009. According to sources, Boras and Varitek discussed accepting arbitration with the hope of then using the process to negotiate a two-year contract, but they decided against it for an assortment of reasons.
For starters, according to one source, Varitek was insistent upon getting a two-year commitment from the club without having to leverage the team via arbitration given his longstanding relationship with the club (he came here via trade in 1997). Second, there was some concern Varitek could end up with a nonguaranteed contract if the matter reached a hearing.
All arbitration awards are nonguaranteed, meaning a player could be released in spring training and end up with only a fraction of his potential salary.
It should be noted that during general manager Theo Epstein's six-plus years with the Sox, no player ever has gone to an arbitration hearing. In the case of Varitek specifically, it is highly likely the club and Boras would have negotiated a guaranteed settlement rather than go to a hearing given Varitek's history and status with the organization.
It also seems highly unlikely the Sox would release a player of Varitek's stature at any point during spring training because of the PR damage it could do.
The current offer to Varitek was made within the last 3-4 days, a source said, and it was unclear whether Varitek and Boras faced a deadline of any kind.
The Sox currently have a group of inexperienced or relatively unaccomplished catchers that includes Josh Bard, George Kottaras, Dusty Brown, and Mark Wagner. The club has been discussing trade options throughout the winter - most notably for Miguel Montero (Arizona) and Jarrod Saltalamacchia (Texas) - though those discussions are largely independent of the Varitek talks.
According to multiple sources, in fact, the Sox made it clear to Varitek and Boras immediately after the season that they foresaw at least a slightly reduced role for their captain, who will be 37 April 11. Varitek caught 131 games last year and has caught at least 125 games in eight of the last 10 seasons, the two exceptions in 2001 and 2006, when he suffered significant injuries.
In those same discussions, according to sources, the Sox indicated a willingness to begin the transition to a younger catcher and their desire to have Varitek serve as a mentor. That request is part of the reason Varitek is seeking a two-year deal, a source said, and was something Varitek stressed to owner John Henry during their meeting Jan. 16.
Tony Massarotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org