Friday, January 30, 2009

Oh Captain (Oy Captain!)

Our long Red Sox Nation nightmare is over. Or perhaps it has only just begun. Jon Heyman at is the first to report this afternoon that Jason Varitek has agreed to a one-year, $5 million deal to return to the Red Sox in 2009, with a $5 million team option or a $3 million player option for 2010.

The Boston Globe reports that the deal includes performance-related incentives, including the always dangerous games-played incentive, which is said to be $2 million for 80 games in 2010.

Today's long-awaited conclusion is certain to divide an already polarized fanbase even further in regards to the longtime captain, who will be 37 in April. Varitek was a shell of himself in 2007, hitting .220 with 13 homers and 43 RBI, enduring a season marred, in part, by a pair of debilitating in-season illnesses in the first three months and the personal drama of a divorce.

But Varitek's reputation as an expert game-caller and, more important, game-preparer for the pitching staff remains strong within the organizaion, and with the team unable to make a deal for Texas' Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Arizona's Miguel Montero, there was little alternative for a team with a glaring hole in the farm system at the catching position.

Many in the anti-Tek wing of the Nation pooh-pooh the "intangibles" argument with Varitek and tend to scoff when Curt Schilling, who knows a little something about pitching and game preparation, pontificates on Varitek's value for a reason. To the Red Sox pitching staff, it's not just some nice way to prop up an empty "C."

Now, all the game-calling in the world doesn't make up for a frignteningly anemic performace at the plate, and the Red Sox offense is not what it was even two years ago, when a bad bat could be absorbed more easily with Manny Ramirez and a healthy David Ortiz in the middle.

But the guess here is that Varitek will rebound, to an extent, in 2009 -- something along the lines of .240, 10, 55. Certainly not great, but not awful for $5 million, while the Sox continue their search for a younger, more permanent replacement for 2010. If Varitek has a successful 2009, logic dictates he turns down his $3 million option in search of another free-agent contract. If he falters, it is just as likely he will retire with a $3 million parachute.

Just pray that the "C" on his jersey doesn't stand for "Cooked."

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