Sunday baseball notes

Toughest call of his career is on Varitek’s plate

By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / February 5, 2012
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Jason Varitek is trying to make a very tough decision.

“He’s deliberating what he wants to do,’’ said his agent, Scott Boras.

And that deliberation has to include the very difficult reality of possible retirement.

Varitek will be 40 years old on April 11. In his heart, he believes he can still play. His body feels as good as it has in a long time. So why quit now?

That probably is his mind-set, but the reality is that there is no room on the Red Sox roster for him. The team has committed to Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the No. 1 catcher. The Sox have signed veteran Kelly Shoppach, who has a strong arm. They have prospect Ryan Lavarnway itching to win a major league job.

And then there is Varitek.

Could he come to spring training as a nonroster player and win a job, or be ready in case one of the others gets hurt? Of course.

Could he summon the desire to play for another team?

There is no doubt what Varitek brings to the table. His knowledge of his pitchers and game plans are unparalleled.

If you need someone to straighten out a staff, he’s the guy. If you need someone to mentor a young catcher, he’s the one.

One of the few places he would seem to fit is Minnesota, where Joe Mauer will need time to DH and rest. Ryan Doumit will be a DH most of the time and back up Mauer, but the Twins will likely carry three catchers.

But there is his legacy to think about.

Varitek came from the Mariners organization, but he never played for the Mariners. He has spent his entire major league career with the Red Sox. He has been their captain, their leader on the field. He has groomed pitchers and taken charge of games much as Carlton Fisk did before him.

There are people close to Varitek who think he should make the painful decision to call it a career. Dwight Evans struggled with a similar decision many years ago. The Sox felt his time was up, but Evans decided he had something left and he spent one year with the Orioles before retiring. His baseball card will always read: Boston, 19 years; Baltimore, 1 year.

Jorge Posada made a wise decision to end his career having played for just one team. He forever will be linked with the Yankee dynasty. He basically started out as a champion and ended with a team that finished first in the American League East.

Varitek isn’t the only player going through this.

Pudge Rodriguez wants to be the first catcher with 3,000 hits (he is 156 short) but he has drawn little interest this offseason. He doesn’t have the ties to one team like Varitek and Posada, so the decision to continue on is easier in that regard. And Boras thinks he may have an opportunity for him.

Johnny Damon, the third-best DH in the league last season (behind David Ortiz and Michael Young) was asked whether the lack of activity on him would mean he is contemplating retirement.

“No way,’’ he said. “I know I can still help a team. I can contribute to a team in a lot of different ways with a key hit or a key play and what I bring to the clubhouse.

“The Tampa Bay situation just floored me. I thought I was going back there, but they told me they were looking for more power and went in a different direction.’’

Boras sees openings for Damon. The Yankees could use a DH type. The Orioles signed Wilson Betemit, but please . . . Betemit, who hit eight homers with two teams, over Damon, who hit 16 homers for Tampa Bay?

The Mets have been looking for an outfield candidate with a lefthanded bat, and the A’s, despite their infatuation with Manny Ramirez, would make a popular move if they brought Damon back to the Bay area.

Boras also feels he has work for Magglio Ordonez, another aging righthanded hitter. But Vladimir Guerrero may have a problem keeping his career alive.

Like Rodriguez, Damon is looking for 3,000 hits. He is 277 shy and would need a year and a half.

“I think I signed with Tampa Bay last year around this time, and the year before I signed [with Detroit] in February,’’ said Damon. “Even if I have to go into March, I’ll do that.

“I’m in good shape. I’m going through my workouts. And I’ll keep going through them and staying strong until someone makes the commitment. I know I can still help a team win baseball games.’’

Letting go of something you’ve done all your life is very hard to do. And, obviously, the job pays extremely well. Most players will never make this much again.

So as Red Sox spring training draws near, Varitek - and Tim Wakefield - face an agonizing decision.


Boras is never afraid to wait for right offer

One thing about Scott Boras is that he is willing to wait for a good deal, and he is not afraid to recommend a one-year contract so players can enhance their value.

He did that a lot this offseason, while also striking a nine-year, $214 million deal for Prince Fielder with the Tigers.

His handling of the Fielder situation was probably not so much “genius’’ - as some have termed it - as common sense. The Tigers had good insurance coverage on Victor Martinez and therefore were able to extend on Fielder. And Fielder should excite the fan base enough to raise attendance from the 2.5 million Detroit had in 2011.

On top of that, TV ratings should be higher, thus advertising revenue will be enhanced.

Boras has always emphasized the value of a player to a team’s bottom line. He hasn’t always been right (Daisuke Matsuzaka wasn’t a bonanza for the Red Sox), but he usually is.

There is probably a reason that so many Boras clients are still available in January and February. He allows the market to adjust.

“By rule, talent has no wristwatch,’’ Boras said. “The talent doesn’t go away, it’s that the market adjusts to it. The needs of the team are very different in January than they are in November.

“The reason is the teams have a whole bunch of ideas and thought processes they develop going into the offseason, and the probability of those plans having been realized in January, in many instances, they weren’t executed.

“Then they reevaluate and take a step. My job experience lets you be patient and understand the value of players.’’

So Boras patiently awaited the big payday for Fielder, and at the end, he was fielding eight offers, including the one from Tigers president Dave Dombrowski and owner Mike Ilitch, who stepped up big after Martinez went down with a torn ACL.


Apropos of nothing

1. Ten kids? Vicente Padilla needs the job. The Red Sox knew about Padilla’s child support issues, but they thought he was straightening them out and never thought he could be facing arrest in Nicaragua. Erik Bedard also had issues with child support last September. Looks like the Red Sox are conducting their own investigation on Padilla.

2. Fantasy camp at JetBlue Park this week. Get to see old pals Frankie Viola, Oil Can Boyd, Richie Gedman, and many others, who will pretty much break in the new ballpark.

3. Scott Boras has stopped representing Manny Ramirez.

4. Gary Hughes, recently hired as a pro scout with the Red Sox after many years with the Cubs and Expos, loved Tom Brady’s arm as a catcher at Serra High School and felt Brady could have been a very good major league catcher.

5. The Red Sox should settle with David Ortiz. A couple of arbitration experts feel Ortiz could win at $16.5 million. Ortiz and his agent feel confident.

6. Yes, I do feel the Red Sox missed an opportunity to sign Edwin Jackson to a good value deal at one year, $10 million. They shouldn’t let Roy Oswalt slip away now.

7. Tough seeing Dennis Gilbert out of the bidding for the Dodgers. He would have been a great owner and run the team well, emphasizing the value of scouting and respecting the people in that field.

8. A couple of frustrated agents have described dealing with the Red Sox front office/ownership as a “different environment’’ from what they were used to in the past, but there has been quite a bit of praise for Ben Cherington.

9. They didn’t plan it this way, but it’s pretty good marketing: A Fenway replica JetBlue Park opens the same year as the 100th anniversary of Fenway. Pretty neat symmetry.

10. Speaking of ballparks, there is still hope that the Nationals can move into City of Palms Park in Fort Myers. There have been talks off and on but no agreement is close.

11. Bobby Valentine wowed them at last Thursday’s internal Town Hall. He had the Red Sox front office and new employees in stitches with his story-telling. So far, Valentine is a huge hit inside the organization while also spreading the Red Sox gospel throughout New England.

12. Boxing trainer Goody Petronelli, who died last week, was one of the great self-made men in sports and a great Red Sox fan. In the years after I covered Marvin Hagler, whom he (and brother Pat) groomed to be the middleweight champion, Goody always wanted the inside dope on the Sox. Thanks for the great memories, Goody.

13. The Red Sox never discussed a multiyear deal with Jacoby Ellsbury before settling on the one-year, $7.9 million contract to avoid arbitration. Ellsbury, by the way, has done fine charity work with Native American kids.

Updates on nine

1. Brandon Webb, RHP, free agent - He hasn’t given up on pitching again. According to one American League executive, the plan is for Webb to throw for teams sometime in March. The 2006 National League Cy Young winner signed with the Rangers before last season but never appeared in a game for them because of shoulder problems. Webb won 22 games in 2008 and has pitched in one game since then, in 2009.

2. John Lannan, LHP, Nationals - Lannan, 27, is a terrific option as an end-of-the rotation starter now that Washington has signed Edwin Jackson. There is a lot of speculation that the Nationals will deal him to the Angels for center fielder Peter Bourjos, with Mike Trout on the way to play that position in Anaheim. But the Nationals could also move Jayson Werth to center and sign a right fielder. It now appears that Yoenis Cespedes is not in their plans and they have cooled on B.J. Upton. Lannan, who went 10-13 last year with a 3.70 ERA and a (high) 1.462 WHIP, would be a good option for a team like Boston, but the Red Sox don’t seem to have the center fielder to give back, especially with Ryan Kalish unable to play until June. “It doesn’t have to be a center fielder,’’ said one major league source. “They don’t have to get a center fielder in that deal as long as they get a center fielder some other way. The Red Sox make a lot of sense.’’

3. Javier Vazquez, RHP, free agent - He is retired for now, but could some team pull a fast one and convince him to play? The veteran righty had an excellent season for the Marlins last year and was coveted early in free agency until word spread that he was done. Is he really? “If you can land him, he’d be the perfect fourth or fifth starter on a contending staff,’’ said an American League general manager. “He pitched last year like he used to pitch when he was in Atlanta. If there are family issues, you understand his reasoning for hanging it up, but performance-wise, he’s as good as he’s ever been.’’

4. Mark Prior, RHP, free agent - He will likely attempt one more comeback. He spent some of last season with the Yankees, his rebuilt arm holding up well and getting his velocity into the low 90s. But Prior, who was the Stephen Strasburg of his day, has a new problem. After many weeks of trying to figure out what was wrong with the lower half of his body, he had surgery for a sports hernia, but the problem wasn’t completely corrected. He is working out near his home in San Diego, trying to figure it out. He will likely work out for teams as early as March.

5. Charlie Haeger, RHP, free agent - He was supposed to be in Red Sox minor league camp, but while long-tossing this winter, he ripped up his elbow. Yes, he is a knuckleballer, and you’d be hard-pressed to find another knuckleballer who had Tommy John surgery. He’ll miss the season.

6. Neal Huntington, general manager, Pirates - The affable Amherst College alum and New Hampshire native believes in what the Pirates are trying to accomplish and feels his fan base is responding. “You look at what Tampa Bay has done,’’ he said. “You look at the Clevelands, Arizonas, Colorados. Minnesota has done it for years. Good management. Good decisions. Good process, good systems, good people, good players, creates winning teams, and that’s where we believe we’re headed. That’s our focus. We don’t worry about what we don’t have. We worry about what we do have and how we compete with the big-market clubs and how we win.’’

7. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B, Red Sox - The Sox slugger has strengthened his shoulder this offseason and expects to be healthy all season, which should mean his power returns. He struggled the second half of last season as the shoulder tired.

8. Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals - The Nationals have become one of the most compelling teams in baseball with their offseason moves and outstanding young talent. The most fascinating player will be Harper. General manager Mike Rizzo has taken a conservative approach, not wanting to overwhelm Harper, but there is clamoring for Harper to start his big league career now. There are mixed opinions within the organization, but manager Davey Johnson is on board with the “now’’ side. Harper would play right field, moving Werth to center. Harper hit .256 in 37 games at Double A Harrisburg after hitting .318 with 14 homers and 44 RBIs in 72 games at Single A Hagerstown. Is he a Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriguez? “He’s pretty special,’’ said a National League scout who watched Harper a lot. “Could he handle the big leagues? Absolutely. Would it hurt to play some Triple A? Of course not.’’

9. Josh Hamilton, OF, Rangers - He is one of the toughest and most talented players in the game, but there are times when he can’t shake his drug and alcohol demons. Twice in the last three years - including late last week - he took a drink, for which he apologized. The Rangers certainly hope he’s going to make it through the latest episode, but they have another issue: his contract. Hamilton becomes a free agent after this season. The injury history is one thing, but his relapses are likely to hurt the chances that the Rangers will commit to him long-term.

Short hops

From the Bill Chuck files: “The AL Home Run Derby team consisted of Adrian Gonzalez, who had 17 homers in 89 games before the break and 10 in 70 games post-break; David Ortiz, who had 19 homers in 87 games before the break and 10 in 59 games post-break; Jose Bautista, who had 31 homers in 84 games before the break and 12 in 65 games post-break; and contest winner Robinson Cano, who had 15 homers in 87 games before the break and 13 in 72 games post-break.’’ Also, “Over the last three seasons, CC Sabathia has faced 2,893 batters, leading the AL last season at 985. Perhaps that’s why CC had a 2.56 ERA and a .228 batting average against through July, but over the last two months of the season had a 4.06 ERA and a .316 BAA.’’ . . . Happy birthday to Vic Correll (66) and Lee Thomas (76). And while he never played for the Red Sox, we need to acknowledge that Hank Aaron, the true home run king, turns 78.

Nick Cafardo can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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