Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sox Set Saturday as Deadline for Veritek Signing

The Red Sox should know by the end of the week if Jason Varitek, their primary catcher since 1999, will be part of their 2009 squad.
The Boston Herald -- citing a "source close to the negotiations" -- reported that the Red Sox have given Varitek a deadline of Saturday to either accept or decline their formal offer that was made last week.

If Varitek doesn't accept the offer by Saturday, the Red Sox are likely to proceed with alternate catching plans.

One possibility is that the Red Sox will ratchet up trade talks with the Diamondbacks for Miguel Montero and with the Rangers for Taylor Teagarden or Jarrod Saltamacchia.

As a matter of fact, even if Varitek does return to the fold, general manager Theo Epstein is still likely to continue his pursuit of a talented young catcher of the future. Under that scenario, part of Varitek's role going forward would be to mentor that prospect.

The Red Sox did sign catcher Josh Bard to a contract in late December, though he is viewed more as a backup. Dusty Brown and George Kottaras are both coming off solid years at Triple-A Pawtucket, but only time will tell if either player is ready for the Major Leagues.

Varitek, who will be 37 in April, is coming off the worst offensive season (.220, 13 homers, 43 RBIs) of his career. However, even through those struggles, he remained a glue for the pitching staff and a respected leader in the clubhouse. Varitek has been Boston's captain since 2005.

The market for Varitek hit a snag on Dec. 7, when the catcher declined Boston's offer of salary arbitration. Had Varitek accepted that, it would have solidified his return to Boston for 2009 at an approximate salary of $10-12 million.

However, Varitek was looking for a multi-year offer and also might have been leery of the fact that salaries awarded in arbitration are non-guaranteed.

The arbitration offer made by the Red Sox hurt Varitek's market, as prospective suitors were reluctant to sign the Type A free agent because they didn't want to give up the compensatory draft pick.

On Jan. 16, Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry flew to Atlanta to meet directly with Varitek. The meeting was requested by Varitek, and did not include agent Scott Boras.

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report to Fort Myers, Fla., on Feb. 12, the Red Sox are eager to get the Varitek situation resolved one way or the other.

By Saturday, they should have a far better read on what their catching situation will look like for 2009.

Varitek, a three-time All-Star, has played 1,330 games, all with the Red Sox. He is a career .263 hitter with 161 homers and 654 RBIs.

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