Sunday, November 16, 2008

Varitek tops Red Sox's offseason list

The two weeks of exclusivity the Red Sox had with Jason Varitek, their catcher of the last decade-plus, has passed. Varitek, just like every other free agent in Major League Baseball, is now eligible to sign with all 30 teams.
As the clock struck midnight ET and Thursday turned to Friday, free agency officially began.

Varitek is clearly a front-burner issue for the Red Sox. Catching depth is not strong throughout Major League Baseball. Complicating the situation is that Varitek, who will be 37 in April, is coming off what is easily the worst offensive season of his career.

"He's an important part of the organization -- there's no doubt about that," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said recently. "Obviously, he's coming off a year that wasn't his best, but he's important nonetheless. Now he's a free agent and we'll be talking to him. We have an obligation to explore all our options. We do that with every position."

Catching just happens to be a difficult one to fill.

"There's not a lot of elite catching out there," Epstein said. "But at the same time, that changes the standards for what you're looking for. What we like to do is be league average at every position and then be way above league average at as many positions as we can. We try to have no weak links and be at least league average at every position. So with the state of catching, what is league average? It's well documented that there's not a lot of elite catching out there, but we'll figure it out."

Epstein did have some initial meetings at the General Managers Meetings with Scott Boras, who represents Varitek. It isn't known if offers were exchanged.

One sticking point could be length, with the Red Sox preferring a shorter-term deal than Varitek might be willing to accept.

The other free agents from the Red Sox are Mike Timlin, Curt Schilling, Bartolo Colon, Sean Casey, Alex Cora, Mark Kotsay, Paul Byrd and David Ross.

Aside from Varitek, the Red Sox might have interest in bringing back Casey and Cora, two veteran bench players.

Timlin doesn't figure into the team's plans for next season and Schilling will either retire or pitch a partial season. Kotsay and Byrd are likely to explore opportunities to play more vital roles for other teams.

Epstein will also spend plenty of time in the next few weeks exploring free agents from outside the organization. Starting pitching could be of particular interest to the Red Sox, and there is a lot of it on the market.

Derek Lowe, A.J. Burnett and Ben Sheets are just some of the names that could make a significant impact on a rotation.

Other than that, it's unclear which areas Boston will pursue when it comes to free agency. The Red Sox are in a luxurious spot in that they have starting players under contract at every position and in some cases -- shortstop and center field -- they have two potential starters.

Red Sox slugger David Ortiz recently expressed the desire for his team to add another big bat. The most intriguing free agent in that regard is first baseman Mark Teixeira. But it's unclear if he is a fit for the Red Sox, given that Kevin Youkilis and Mike Lowell currently man the corners.

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