In part one of a series that will explore and dissect the offseason changes that could be and should be made by the Red Sox, we look at the captain of this club, Jason Varitek.
With all the negative publicity this team has gotten over the past three weeks and no apparent end in sight, the one constant that keeps arising is where was the leadership in the clubhouse? Where was the captain to restore order in a dysfunctional locker room that featured a lineup full of all-stars. It was pretty obvious there wasn’t a distinct leader or anyone willing to stand up to some of the alleged destructive behaviours that were taking place.
So the question is, do the Red Sox bring back Jason Varitek for a 15th sesason?
It’s the only club he’s ever known. His entire professional career has been with the Boston Red Sox and he’s done some magnificent things during his time in Boston. Who could forget the A-Rod incident in 2003 when he smashed his catcher’s mitt into the face of Rodriguez. It was as if he said “enough of this, we’re tired of getting pushed around by you damn Yankees.” It was a rallying cry that led this club to believe they could not only play with the Yankees but beat them. One year later they proved it by winning it all.
His personal resume is littered with accomplishments; 3 time all-star (2003, ’05, ’08), a gold glove in 2005, a silver slugger in ’05, the 2006 Heart and Hustle award, 2 World Series championships and of course the captain of the Red Sox since 2005.
His career numbers are decent for a catcher. A career .256 batting average with an OBP of .341 to go with a slugging percentage of .435. He’s played in over 1,500 games and has hit 193 home runs over that span while driving in 757 RBI. His best year’s were from 2003-05 when he set career highs in home runs (25), batting average (.296), and RBI (85).
But that is part of the problem; his best year’s are behind him. In 2010 he appeared in just 39 games thanks to injury. This past season he played in 68 games, limited to action because of the shared duties with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Tek’s offensive numbers are .221, .341, .435 and .776 respectively after a horrid start to the season. He hit 11 home runs to go with 36 RBI. Pretty good numbers for a so-called backup catcher.
Varitek is a free agent this year so he’s free to shop around and wait for the best offer to come to him. Considering he just came off a one-year deal with Boston that paid him $2 million, he better not wait to long for the phone the offers to come pouring in. Not many teams will want a soon to be 40 year old catcher who’s body continues to break down more and more by the road trips.
Is Varitek a good option for Boston then? He’ll be relatively cheap as you could probably sign him for a one year deal between $1-1.5 million. He’s been the captain for the past six seasons and has been instrumental in developing young players who try and adjust to life in the big leagues.
Here is where things turn bad for ‘Tek. First of all, you have the whole September collapse and his name is being pegged as a lack of leadership in the clubhouse. That’s strike one against him. Dustin Pedroia recently went on the radio and defended ‘Tek and said he was a great leader, there were no issues. Is the whole report in the Boston Globe bogus? Highly doubtful. Besides, it’s probably difficult for Varitek to get the high level of respect as captain from his fellow teammates when he isn’t playing every day. A few years ago when ‘Tek was the fulltime catcher, players ultimately respect the voice and demands of their captain when he’s in the trenches with them on a daily basis. That time has come and gone.
The second strike against ‘Tek are his co-catchers, Saltalamacchia and prospect Ryan Lavarnway. This season, the second for Salty was by far a much improved year for the former Texas Ranger catcher. Salty set career highs in games played (103), home runs (16), RBI (56) and slugging percentage (.450). Last season he was limited to just 12 games thanks to nagging injuries that kept to him to playing in just 2 games with Texas before being traded to Boston where he played in only 10 more.
The Florida native showed good power this season at the plate, but more importantly had a 30% pickoff rate on baserunners trying to steal on him. In fact he threwout 37 attempts, good for fourth best in the majors and only two behind the leaders, Russell Martin of the Yankees and Alex Avila of Detroit.
A once highly touted prospect, Saltalamacchia has struggled to live up to that hype due in large part to injuries. This past season he managed to stay healthy and showed some poise at the catcher position, once he settled down and stopped t hrowing the ball into centerfield. Granted he did struggle in the month of September where he hit just over .125 and struck out at an alarming rate, but who didn’t struggle on this team?
The other piece to the Red Sox catching puzzle is prospect Ryan Lavarnway. The rookie catcher appeared in only 17 games this season with the Sox but it was certainly memorable. Who could forget his two home runs in the second last game of the season that almost propelled the Red Sox into the playoffs. The kid looks calm and cool at the plate and nailed his only basestealing runner. He needs a little spit and polish that’s for sure, but he is only 24 years old, which is the third and final strike against Varitek; age.
Going into next season Varitek will be turning 40, Saltalamacchia 27 and Lavarnway 24. Salty will be entering his sixth full season as a big leaguer so he has the experience and ability to be the fulltime guy behind the plate.
The writing is on the wall for Jason Varitek and who knows maybe he’ll decide to hang em up and retire. He’s had a fruitful career and one that he was able to play for the same team throughout. In this day and age, that is an accomplishment in itself.
Despite all the bad press this team has gotten lately, Varitek will forever go down as an icon in Boston. His time appears to be up in a Red Sox uniform, but his legacy will live on. So should this be the last we’ve seen of the #33 jersey with a ‘C’ on the front left chest, it’s only right that we say, Jason Varitek, thanks for all you’ve done.