There are four players on the Red Sox Roster who where on the 2004 World Series Team, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, David Ortiz and Kevin Youkilis. With the exception of Youkilis, all of these are now free agents. From reading the tea leaves, it appears that Varitek and Wakefield will not be resigned, at least in a player capacity.
Varitek has been one of the best catchers ever, being the only one who has caught four no hitters. For those of you who think all a catcher does is catch, what do you think all of the hand waving and finger pointing the catcher does before each pitch is about. He is telling the pitcher what to throw. He has to know the habits and weaknesses of each opposing player before each game. To be able to lead a pitcher through a no hitter is an accomplishment in and of itself, but to do four shows a lot more than just catching the ball.
The problem is catchers wear out. They squat behind the plate all game and after a few years, it begins to tell. You don’t see many catchers set stolen base records. After while, it becomes apparent that it’s time to go. Do you remember how many bases were stolen on Varitek. He;s always been easy to steal on, it was kind of obvious this year. He has been one of the if not the most popular player on the team over the years, but that also seems to be fading. He is one of the few team captains that wears the C on his uniform and in past years, he acted like a captain. He settled clubhouse disputes, he jacked up players that were dogging it and encouraged those coming up the ladder; sadly. this past season, that ability waned as well. If he was in the clubhouse during September of last season, he sure didn’t act like a captain. In April, next year, he will be 40 years old. That’s a long time to squat behind the plate.
Ben Cherington has expressed genuine respect for he and Wakefield, but not a hint of a new contract for either. Wakefield was born in 1966 and was drafted by the Pittsburg Pirates in 1988. (As an aside, Ryan Lavarnway, our up and coming catcher was 2 years old). He is the second oldest active player, which is due to the fact he throws the knuclkeball. The knuckball is usually around 25 mph slower than traditional pitches and due to its simplicity of delivery, little stress is put on the throwing arm which has allowed him to pitch for Sox for 17 years. Last year, he won is 200th win as a starting pitcher. It was apparent, when he pitched, that Terry Francona wanted his to get the record win and would probably leave him in too long some times; it took him 5 starts to finally get beyond 199. It was painful to watch.
David Ortiz, the good will ambassador the world, is also a free agent but his situation is different from the other two in the sense that he can still knock the applesauce out of the ball, which as designated hitter he’s supposed to do. What puts him in the same group as Varitek and Wakefield is future usefulness. David wants a two year contract at $12,500,000.00 a year guaranteed and Cherington does not want two years. He has offered Ortiz one year at $14,000,000.00; he has also offered arbitration. This means that if Ortiz accepts arbitration, which he must do by midnight, tonight, he will be guaranteed $14,000,000.00 for one year. He may get more, but only for one year. The arbitration takes place in February of 2012. If he accepts arbitration, he can still bargain for more up until then, so it’s is a win win for him. I don’t know who is advising him, but if he does not take the arbitration, he is a fool. He has no counter offers to leverage a higher offer. If he doesn’t take the arbitration, he has nothing and might not get any offers. Cherington is showing a great deal of respect for Ortiz for offering arbitration at all.
The thread that joins these three battered warriors together is knowing when to quit. AS the song, The Gambler , advises, ” You got to know when to hold’me, know when to fold’em and know when to walk away.” Professional athletes, besides being physically qualified, come with huge egos. They have to have them to be able to perform at such high levels. The problem arises when the physical level and the ego level get out of balance. Varitek and Wakefield should know it’s time to “foldem”, and it will be pathetic for them to hang around at the back door asking for a handout. These are men of great accomplishments. They should thank the good Lord they lasted as long as they did and make a graceful exit; in a like manner, David Ortiz knows a two year contract is a crap shoot. His hitting is sporadic at times, although he went out in a blaze of glory this year, but from a business point of view, one year is all he should get. If, next year, he has another good year, sign him for another one year. Just don’t be obligated to pay for hip surgery and a nonperforming year the second year.
It’s sad when the curtain falls on glorious careers, watching hitters trying to figure out where the ball is going and watching Varitek put A Rod in his place, but it’s time to go. If Ortiz doesn’t take arbitration, he shouldn’t be signed on grounds of stupidity. The moving finger writes and having writ moves on.