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Caught in a bind

Posted by Maureen Mullen October 30, 2008 05:57 AM

With nine potential free agents on their roster, the Red Sox have a lot of decisions to make. And it’s safe to say the one that will have the most impact on the team will be the decision to re-sign Jason Varitek — or not.

Varitek, who will turn 37 in the first week of next season, has set the gold standard for catchers in his 12 seasons with the Sox. But he struggled through his most difficult offensive season this year. His .220 average was 43 points below his career mark of .263 and well off his career-best .296 in 2004. The switch-hitter’s right-left splits were significant: He hit just .201 (66-for-328) from the left side and .284 (27-for-95) as a righty.

“I’d take Varitek if he hit .210, just by the way he works hitters and the knowledge he has of how to run a game,” said a major league scout. “He makes bad pitchers into mediocre pitchers, and he makes mediocre pitchers into pretty good pitchers. How he gets some of the stuff he gets out of them, I don’t know. He’s pretty damn good.”

The question facing Sox management is: If not Varitek, who? It’s a familiar question this off-season, with many teams looking for front-line catching.

“That’s a heck of a question, because there sure isn’t much around from what I’ve seen,” said another major league scout. “The only free agent guys that would be worth anything would be Varitek and [the Yankees’ Ivan] Rodriguez. The rest of them, they’re either backup or not very good front guys. If they lose Varitek, they better hope the [replacement] does well. I don’t think there’s anything else around, and anybody that has a catcher that’s worth anything is not going to want to part with them for sure.”

Those other “free agent guys” include Toronto’s Rod Barajas (the team has a $2.5 million option) and Gregg Zaun, the Cubs’ Henry Blanco ($3 million team option), the White Sox’ Toby Hall ($2.25 million team option), and the Reds’ Javier Valentin.

“I have no idea where you’d find a catcher or one that’s worth even talking about that’s available, as far as a free agent goes,” the second scout said. “There might be a club that would trade its front-line catcher, but I don’t know. But you’d probably have to give up half the ball club to get him.”

None of the catchers currently in the Sox organization is likely to step into the starter’s role. David Ross, who turns 32 in March, caught a career-high 108 games in 2007 for the Reds; Cincinnati released him this past season. Kevin Cash caught 54 games in 2008 and has a career total of 183. George Kottaras made his big-league debut late this season, and Dusty Brown appeared in 70 games behind the plate for the PawSox, catching a total of 353 games in six minor league seasons. The Sox’ top catching prospect, Mark Wagner, is playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League.

“For the last two or three years, I talk all the time about how down the catching is,” said a third scout. “And even in the minor leagues. There’s got to be some kids getting ready to serve us here somewhere, to get the catching back, to give us some more depth in catching around the league.”

Until then, who?

In case you’re wondering
The Sox’ other possible free agents are pitchers Paul Byrd, Curt Schilling, Mike Timlin, and Tim Wakefield ($4 million club option for 2009); Ross ($3.5 million club option for 2009); infielders Sean Casey and Alex Cora; and outfielder Mark Kotsay.

Escape Claus
Todd Claus, one of the Sox’ major league advance scouts for the last two seasons, has left the organization to take a coaching position with Jacksonville University. Claus, 39, was promoted to advance scout after being named Baseball America’s Double-A manager of the year in 2006, when he led Portland to the Eastern League championship. He joined the Sox in 2004 as manager of Single-A Sarasota.

“I have chosen to go in another direction with my future,” Claus said.

Maureen Mullen covers the Red Sox for OT and can be reached at mmullen@globe.com

38 comments so far...
  1. I don't agree that Varitek makes bad pitchers better. You can cite many pitchers who were abysmal when with the Red Sox and flourished elsewhere even in the glare of the post season. Look at J.C. Romero, Chad Bradford, and Jeff Suppan as just a small sample that fit into this category.

    Posted by Nithi Sivaneri October 30, 08 10:06 AM
  1. Sox need to re-sign Tek. Keep the stability of the pitching intact and add some offense to the mix via a Mark Texiera and we will be fine.

    Posted by SC October 30, 08 10:45 AM
  1. It's an old story. An organization has a need for a position player, and when none appears available they pay someone a premium to fill it as though that will make him better. J. D. Drew, Andrew Jones, Juan Pierre, Julio Lugo.
    If no one is out there, the Red Sox have not done their homework. Who are the geniuses behind the plate for the Rays, Angels, Dodgers, and Phillies, and what do they cost?

    Posted by james wilson October 30, 08 10:53 AM

    Posted by RALPH TORTORA October 30, 08 12:01 PM
  1. They have resign him.His leadership, alone, is worth millions.They should shake Wakefield and Cash,persue a the best option catcher on the market, and let Varitek support.He's too valuable,unless the price is too high.Maybe,he should fire Borashe'd get more money that way.He's wanted by somebody out there,but the Sox need him more.The pitching staff respects him too much..........Besides,how do you dismiss a Captain,especially,a Captain's Captain.....I should certainly miss him...I wear his shirt.

    Posted by Jack ....Melbourne,Fla October 30, 08 12:37 PM
  1. tek is a joke, wearing a C on his shirt show's what type of guy he is, calls a good game what a sham. When a pitcher throws a good game this bat swinging fairy gets some of the credit what a joke. Same pitcher goes out next game and throws a stinker shoulders the blame nothing about the catcher let this guy go his 220 average will not be tough to relace. C for captain, not so much C is for CHOKE i wanted this bum to strike out so he wouldnt hit into a double play

    Posted by winelist October 30, 08 01:52 PM
  1. Keep Varitek.

    He was going through a divorce this year. He'll be back on track next year.

    Posted by Judy Jones October 30, 08 02:20 PM
  1. let see what the dodgers want for russell martin, and go from there.

    Posted by don jay brady October 30, 08 02:41 PM
  1. Everyone talks about Varitek's weakness as a hitter, but have you not noticed he can't throw out runners either?

    Posted by ca October 30, 08 03:13 PM
  1. i think they need to keep tek because he do his job every night so and why are they are they going to shake the team up .

    Posted by babymichelle October 30, 08 03:19 PM
  1. Tek's day has come and gone. See Ya, Spend the moey somewhere else

    Posted by Anonymous October 30, 08 03:48 PM
  1. The Sox should trade for Teagarden in Texas. Looks good in the stats department and can be taught to handle pitchers and keep a book on hitters just like Tek and schillng do.

    Posted by Peperedick October 30, 08 05:12 PM
  1. I think the Red Sox make a big mistake if they do not resign Jason Varitek. He is a hugely integral part of the Red Sox organization, and let him go to another team would be crazy. The Red Sox also need to sign or trade for one or preferably two big bats.

    Posted by thela_hun_ginjeet October 30, 08 06:59 PM
  1. Honestly, what the Sox should do is sit the pitchers down and have a conversation with them as to whether they personally think that Tek is invaluable to them or whether they think someone else could do a similar job.

    I would start with the starting rotation and go from there. If the front 5 or so guys think that Tek is exceptional at catching and they really want him, then the Sox should go out of their way to keep him. Otherwise, I may take my chances with someone else...

    Posted by Anonymous October 30, 08 07:25 PM
  1. Maybe they should talk to NESN and get rid of Heidi Watney. yeah Tek was going through a divorce but has she (Heidi) become or will she be his next distraction.
    I am a huge fan of Tek but come on, I want to see him back, he's a
    great leader and is highly respected on and off the field.

    Posted by nancyamorello@yahoo.com October 30, 08 09:05 PM
  1. Trade WHO for one of the Texas young catchers? Buchholz? Masterson? Bowden? Ellsbury? Lowry? Anderson? Some combination of them? Because that's what it's going to take. So how about it? Ellsbury and Masterson for Teagarden...deal, or no deal?

    Posted by GlenShepard October 30, 08 09:46 PM
  1. I wonder how he would do if he only batted righty.

    Posted by Uncle Jim October 31, 08 12:03 AM
  1. Choose......Wisely.....I hate to quote Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but it fits. Enough of the b.s. gentlemen....Let Theo do his job, and figure out what is going to be the best for the Sox in '09 and beyond.....We have to get some speed, and some dependable youth that will come to the park to PLAY baseball and get paid handsomely for it.

    Posted by Sean O'Connor October 31, 08 12:39 AM
  1. This whole Varitek thing has gotten out of hand. He's been a tremendous asset to the team over the past 10 years. His defense however has started to slip and even if he rebounds offensively (and that is not a given) we're looking at .240/15HRs/60RBI/340OBP with a lot of Ks and popups. 2 options the Red Sox should (and probably will) explore: 1. Go after Teagarden offering Masterson or Bowden and another good prospect like Reddick or possibly Bard. 2. Offer Buchholz, Masterson and Lowrie for Russell Martin. The Dodgers have 2 good looking young catchers and if they don't sign Furcal will need a SS. Martin is worth the price pure and simple. .

    Posted by BobL October 31, 08 06:40 AM
  1. His days are gone. We liked him and Tim, but now is the time for both of them to go.

    Posted by Anonymous October 31, 08 10:22 AM
  1. If Varitek wants to stay, he needs to be honest and admit that his age & offense are liabilities and make a sacrifice on his contract (this implies telling Boras to stay out of negotiations). Theo has set an effective precedent for favoring productivity over sentimentalism and intangibles and Varitek, C or no C, should not be an exception to this policy. Anything more than a 1 yr deal w/ club options (maybe something creative to keep him on in a coaching capacity) would be a huge risk. Someone will probably give him a 3yr deal so it's up to Tek to show us where his heart is.

    Posted by JJ October 31, 08 11:05 AM
  1. So what happened with Josh Bard? He had a great opening season, then was released by the Pardres late last season. Should the Sox at least take a look?

    Posted by Anonymous October 31, 08 11:14 AM
  1. Got no talent out there? Find an intelligent, savy back-up middle infielder with a good arm; ask if he wants a full-time position running a contending team on the field. Like Cora. Like many others. A month of winter ball and this type of individual will be ready.

    Posted by Anonymous October 31, 08 11:53 AM
  1. Well, if Clay Buchholz comes back next year, he's already been having enough problems.

    I love the kid, but why complicate it, by getting a new catcher??? Just gonna mess him up more -_-

    Tek was there, and made the calls when he pitched his no-hitter. On just his second major league start.
    Keep Tek. Don't get rid of him. He's never played for another team. That's what I call devoted to your team.

    Posted by Jess October 31, 08 12:27 PM
  1. I like Varitek - but his time has come... and perhaps gone.... The Sox need a catcher who can be solid at the plate as well as behind it...

    Posted by GBoyd1047 October 31, 08 12:30 PM
  1. Losing V-tek will be emotional for a lot of players & the Red Sox nation if it happens! But thats baseball! He's 37, not much offense this year, and had a hard time throwing to second! It'll be interesting to see how Theo handles this! He dosen't really have any choice replacements! Maybe if Bora slacks off (doubt it) Tek could stay another year, but let's see what Theo can pull out of the hat!

    Posted by Shawn Haggerty October 31, 08 01:07 PM
  1. Wow, it is really impressive to read how many know-it-all armchair GM's post on here!

    I guess the majority of you forgot what it was like in August of 2006 when 'Tek was out with knee surgery! But then, the majority of Whiner Nation forgets anything a player does to help the team win after only a 24-48 hour time span anyway.

    The ultimate "what have you done for me lately" fan base!

    And of course you will all be the same armchair GM's posting complaints next season when another catcher is tanking!

    Posted by JohnB. October 31, 08 01:44 PM
  1. All this talk about his age but have you realized that unlike others his AGE does not stop him from being the Rock behind that plate.. How many players are in such great shape as him? We do not need to spend on some young catcher right now , Tek has proved to all of us that he can and will perform the best that he can.. Let get real there is only great pitching with a great leader and he has proved that... LET TEK STAY!!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted by nancyamorello@yahoo.com October 31, 08 01:55 PM
  1. Good bye Tek.

    Posted by Jonh October 31, 08 04:30 PM
  1. agree with CA above -- he can't throw anyone out anymore. And didn't seem like he was such a genius when Tampa scored 9, 9, and 13. The phillies, with a much weaker staff, shut Tampa down without the "professor."

    Agree there isn't much better out there, but he's not worth the Boras price.

    Posted by AH October 31, 08 05:47 PM
  1. I think the sox need to really evaluate tek and his declining skills both behind the plate and whether or not they can afford his declining skills at bat and if that equals to his invaluable knowledge of the league and hitters then you offer him maybe 1 or 2 year deal but YOU HAVE TO GO OUT AND TRADE FOR A GOOD YOUNG MAJOR LEAGUE READY CATCER.. ONE OF THE TEXAS CATCHER TRIO OR MAYBE PUT TOGETHER A PACKAGE OF BUCHOLTZ OR BOWDEN AND SOME PROSPECTS MAYBE RYAN KHALISH OR SOMEONE LIKE THAT FOR MARTIN SOUNDS LIKE A GOOD IDEA!

    Posted by Sasha Handelman October 31, 08 06:43 PM
  1. One thing about Epstein and Co. that you have to admire is sentimentality has no place in the business that is major league baseball. Place a value on Varitek's services and that includes the "intangibles'' and act accordingly.....let's say go three years at $25M or something to that effect......he's got a scum for an agent so perhaps that will dictate his value on the open market.........but I wouldn't succumb to Boras......both guys in Toronto would be as good as Tek was in Boston last season......Zahn is a switch hitter who loves to play...Barajas is a gamer....heck, they should look at getting Benji Molino out of S.F....he's a good hitter and not a bad ca tcher...

    Posted by David Ritchie dcrit@nbnet.nb.ca October 31, 08 08:56 PM
  1. Give Cash a shot. Lets start rebuilding towards youth. Tek's last contract was his LAST contract. No Disrespect for the Captain. I figure that with Cash you need to pay a lot less for a Guy who can hit 200 and throw out more Base Runners. In an Era when Steriods are no longer permitted Teams that sign aging superstars are going to Find out that the 40 Year old Ball players are going to fall apart. (see Jorge Pasada)There are always exceptions ie Fisk, Wakefield. Lets look at this for the next three years how valuable will his abilities be in 2010-2012 and for how much$$$. What do you do then cut him?

    Posted by edapos November 1, 08 06:39 AM
  1. Give Cash a shot. Lets start rebuilding towards youth. Tek's last contract was his LAST contract. No Disrespect for the Captain. I figure that with Cash you need to pay a lot less for a Guy who can hit 200 and throw out more Base Runners. In an Era when Steriods are no longer permitted Teams that sign aging superstars are going to Find out that the 40 Year old Ball players are going to fall apart. (see Jorge Pasada)There are always exceptions ie Fisk, Wakefield. Lets look at this for the next three years how valuable will his abilities be in 2010-2012 and for how much$$$. What do you do then cut him?

    Posted by edapos November 1, 08 06:40 AM
  1. Just so you know we are all giving are own opinions WE ARE NOT KNOW IT ALL

    Posted by Anonymous November 1, 08 07:35 AM
  1. the sox suck they had there day now its downhill without manny

    Posted by Anonymous November 1, 08 12:01 PM
  1. I find it strange that so many are making blanket "keep him" and "dump him" comments without mentioning the cost. Same goes for the alternatives. Russell Martin is not going anywhere, but could a package involving Ellsbury for Teagarden work (btw, no way Texas would not do that straight up)? But trades fall through more often than not, even when they seem to make sense on paper. At this stage, sadly, Varitek isn't worth millions more than someone like Laird-- not when that money could be used to lock up a Pedroia down the road or grab some middle relief... and PLEASE stop calling Varitek a bum. When a guy gets old in front of our eyes, there's no need demonize him. Or sign him, heh...

    Posted by saltwater November 1, 08 04:50 PM
  1. Bring back Tek (3 years), and have him bat right handed all of the time, if he's truly lost his left-handed stroke. He still draws walks, and his power is only marginally diminished. Pudge appears to have slidden a little in every one of his skills, and the rest of the catcher free agents are really thin. Unless there's a great catcher available in Japan, you've pretty much got to go with Varitek...who's still captain.

    Posted by Donald Croft Brickner November 4, 08 02:23 AM
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