Jason Varitek filed for free agency last Thursday. It’s not time to panic yet, and the Red Sox still have 15 days of exclusive negotiating rights with their captain. But, is it time for Jason Varitek to go? After a very difficult season offensively, should Varitek seek employment elsewhere? Or…should the Red Sox still pursue Tek due to the dearth of alternative options available.
Mike: Let Tek Go
I love what the guy has done in Boston, but I think it’s time to part ways. The Red Sox have had an informal policy which has them backing off of large commitments to older players and no player gets more than four years. They have instituted these guidelines for good reason: loss of production and increasing injuries as players age, and Jason Varitek will turn 37 just weeks into the 2009 season.
He also plays a position which is more physically taxing than any other in the game, aside from pitcher, and has a lot of wear on his body. The captain is also a Scott Boras client, so he will be tough to deal with as it is and the Red Sox-Boras relationship was strained by the Manny Ramirez saga.
I am not sure what ‘Tek is going to want in terms of dollars or years, but anything significant is money poorly spent. Four years ago, there was a lot of haggling over the length with Varitek getting the four years. I cannot see the Red Sox wanting to make that commitment again. His offensive production is way down, though he is a switch hitter and still manages the pitchers and game well.
I am not sure who the Sox would pursue to replace him as I do not think they are high on Kevin Cash and David Ross is not the answer. They looked at Gerald Laird last offseason as a younger, longer-term option behind the plate and may do so again. I have heard rumblings they are after Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but he has not lived up to expectations yet (it is still plenty early for him though).
Varitek’s average line over the past three seasons is: .238BA, 14HR, 58RBI, and 47R. His line over the three year period just preceding that (2003-2005) is: .283, 22, 76, and 67. Drops of 50 batting average points, home runs by a third, RBI by a quarter, and runs by a third are significant. Laird had 79 fewer at bats than Varitek and had two more hits. Former Red Sox C Kelly Shoppach came up one hit shy of Varitek in 71 fewer at bats. He also outhomered Varitek by nearly two-thirds (21-13).
He is comparable to guys that are nowhere near an eight-figure salary (which Tek will likely command) and are of such an age that a three or four year contract would not be prohibitive, but such is not the case for Varitek anymore. The situation is very similar to the one in which Pedro Martinez left the Red Sox, albeit Martinez had a much more extensive injury history. Watching Pedro since he left in 2004 was justification for the Red Sox to not sign him then and should help guide in this situation. It will be tough to see Varitek play somewhere else, but at his age, cost, and lockup, there are better options available to the Red Sox. Even if it does not prove out in 2009, it will before his next contract is over.
KC: Sign Tek Back
Let’s be honest. I know Varitek’s best years are far behind him. But, Varitek is still capable of playing the most difficult position in baseball, despite the fact that catching adds the most wear and tear of any position. It’s because of this that I’m not endorsing that the Red Sox sign him for four years, $36 million. That would be a huge mistake.
But, due to the dearth of available talent at the position, why not re-sign Varitek for two years at $16 million ($8 million per). I mean, the Red Sox have the second-highest payroll in baseball and can definitely afford him. Varitek went through free agency after the 2004 season and demanded to remain with the Red Sox, who in turn offered him four years at $40 million. Back then, there weren’t many options at catcher, and there’s fewer of them now.
If the Sox sign Jason Varitek, they can just plant him in the No. 8 spot in the batting order, and whatever you get from him is a bonus. The Red Sox really don’t need a superstar at all nine spots in the order, and assuming Mike Lowell and David Ortiz return to good health, this is a pretty formidable lineup with or without Jason Varitek. The Red Sox can afford to have a weak offensive link in Tek if you have seven or eight other hitters who are more than capable offensively.
But, I would definitely be interested in trading for one of Texas’s two young catchers: Gerald Laird or Jarrod Saltalamacchia (just as the Red Sox are interested). The one problem here is that the Rangers would demand two or three top pitching prospects, like Clay Buchholz, Michael Bowden, or Justin Masterson. Are two of those three worth one young catcher? This isn’t a MLB2K8 franchise or fantasy baseball, this is the real thing. Trades like that don’t always work out too well.
Can you imagine if the Red Sox traded Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Jacoby Ellsbury for Johan Santana? Minnesota would be set to dominate the AL Central for years. The Sox would have a dominate lefthander, but I don’t think they make it any farther than they did this year with Santana instead of Lester. You could argue now that the Red Sox wouldn’t even consider trading Lester straight up for Santana.
But, let’s say the Sox trade Buchholz and Bowden for Saltalamacchia. Great. We have a top prospect catcher (which is extremely rare), but how is he going to handle an experienced staff? Well, if Salty were to play three out of every five games, the Sox could sign a veteran backup to start the other two. Enter Jason Varitek. I think it would be a great situation if the Sox had Salty and Varitek for the next two years, allowing Salty to blossom into a star.
I know they may encounter a couple problems with those two together. Most of the staff (besides Wakefield) would want to throw to Varitek, so their routines may be disrupted. Also, can Saltalamacchia catch a knuckleball? Would the Red Sox have to keep three catchers (including Kevin Cash) just to handle Wakefield? It sounds like a mess to me.
So, if you can’t get a good deal for Saltalamacchia or Laird, then Varitek is your man. Well…Boston’s man, just because there’s not much else out there.
Tags: Gerald Laird, Hot Stove, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek, Kelly Shoppach, Red Sox