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In 1997, then-Red Sox general manager Dan Duquette (now GM of the Baltimore Orioles) traded closer Heathcliff Slocumb to the Seattle Mariners for two minor leaguers. One of them was Derek Lowe. The other was Jason Varitek.
Fast forward to 2011, and Varitek just finished his fourteenth year behind the plate in a storied career for the Red Sox – all thanks to the Mariners’ love for incredible names that sound like a cross between an ice cream flavor and a character out of Cool Runnings.
But now he is a free agent and new general manager Ben Cherington has to decide: should he bring Varitek back for another year in 2012?
After the 2004 World Series title, the Red Sox resigned Varitek to a 4-year, $40 million deal sweetened by a capital “C” sewn onto Varitek’s jersey denoting him as the third team captain in Red Sox history (along with legends Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Rice).
Needless to say, he failed to live up to his title this past season.
While this might not be the primary reason to let Varitek walk (or reasons, as I will get to shortly), as the official leader of the clubhouse, he should be held to a certain level of accountability. Varitek was given the honor of being named captain for a reason. (Hint: it wasn’t to let his pitching staff get out of shape and flaunt their responsibilities to the team.) Even if he is usually the type of leader who sets a quiet example for others to follow, he has to step up and be vocal to rally his teammates.
That’s not to say other players in the clubhouse don’t also have the responsibility to make themselves heard and motivate one another, and certainly the onus does not fall solely on his heavily iced shoulders. Members of the Red Sox have come to his defense, saying he was a motivator and a leader during the September slide.
But being a captain means being held to a higher standard, and Varitek didn’t live up to the requirements. Since he can no longer handle that role, it seems it’s time for him to go.
His failure as a captain aside, Varitek is 39 years old, going on 40 at the beginning of next season. Do the Red Sox really want a 40-year-old set of knees squatting behind home plate next year?
Granted, Varitek will only play around 70 games as the back-up catcher (he played 68 last year). But Tek’s defensive prowess is already waning, despite his ability to handle a pitching staff better than any human alive (according to sources). Using the advanced metric Defensive Runs Saved, Varitek allowed three runs (-3) instead of saving any, turning the stat into DRA instead of DRS. When it comes to base stealing threats, Varitek came in at -5 for Stolen Base Runs Saved (rSB) in 2011, meaning he was worse than incapable of throwing out baserunners or even keeping them honest. That hardly seems like it will change with a new calendar year.
In fact, Varitek has a track record of breaking down in the second half based on his performance at the plate as well. After the 2011 All-Star break, Varitek hit just .176 with a .242 OBP. The second half of 2010 was essentially erased by injury, as he only had 17 at-bats (and just one hit). 2009 saw Varitek produce a meager .157 post-All-Star break batting average and a pathetic .239 slugging percentage. All told, he has hit .157/.238/.289 after the All-Star break from 2009-2011.
His Wins Above Replacement (WAR), or overall contributions to the team, adds up to a single extra win over the course of the last three years (1.1 to be precise – 0.0 in’09, 0.5 in ’10, and 0.6 in ’11). To translate WAR from mathematics to English, Varitek has played better than any average player by only the slimmest of margins, and his contributions were barely quantifiable in the win column. Prospect Ryan Lavarnway, 24, should be able to handle catching responsibilities behind an apparently rejuvenated Jarrod Saltalamacchia. This is especially considering Lavarnway was named the starting catcher in the most important game of the season last year, and he is replacing a broken-down, 40-year-old, essentially replacement-level player.
In other words, add Varitek’s age and his second-half batting average over the last three years, and what do you get?
196 Reasons why Tek should sail into the sunset.