Jason Varitek: Yay or Nay?

With all the excitement over the Yankees' moves, and over Teixeira speculation, we're moving away from what may be the most critical position for the Red Sox long-term - catcher. The Red Sox have a serious decision to make, and it starts with whether or not they want Jason Varitek.

From where I stand, Tek really erred when he decided not to accept arbitration. Coming off an atrocious year, and his second lost season in the past three, Tek's strategy should have been to accept arbitration. Then he could make more money than as a free agent, and hopefully rebuild his value for another run at free agency for 2010.

As it is now, the market for Tek appears almost non-existent. The Tigers grabbed Gerald Laird, the Reds traded for Ramon Hernandez. And if a team wanted a veteran catcher, they'd probably prefer Ivan Rodriguez, who wouldn't cost first round draft picks.

If Jason Varitek can't work something out with the Red Sox, Boras is going to have to start marketing him in Japan. As much as Varitek-san would love the land of the Rising Sun, I think he'd prefer to not deal with a new league, new language, new pitching staff, and a new greatly reduced salary.*

With practically no other teams bidding for his services, Varitek has basically zero leverage. If he comes back to Boston, it'll be on Theo's terms. Our front office is not immune to sentimentality - witness the $4 million 2008 contract for Mike Timlin - but I hope in this case it won't be the driving factor. In this case, Theo should be able to hold Tek to a one-year deal, either as the primary starter or as part of a platoon with someone younger or better defensively (i.e. Cash).

On a one-year deal for less money, say $4 million, Varitek may be a legitimate option. The pitching staff likes him, and he hits lefties well (2008: .863 OPS). He's just one season removed from a good 2007 (.787 OPS). There is the possibility that he bounces back, especially if his struggles were more psychological (i.e. he got divorced) than physical.

However, I would prefer that Theo begins auditions for Who Wants to Catch the Red Sox sooner rather than later. Tek's defense has become underwhelming (18.8% caught-stealing percentage), and as a hitter he struggled to make contact all year long (2008: .220 / .313 / .359). It's unrealistic to expect much of an improvement at age 37, especially for a catcher. I'd rather bring back Kevin Cash, who plays good defense, guns down runners (26.9% CS%), and can catch Wakefield, than Tek, who is misfiring on all cylinders.

So here's my proposal:
1) Trade for a top catching prospect (preferably Teagarden, Salty, or Brian Anderson). Give him 60-75% of starts.
2) Bring back Kevin Cash, have him catch Wakefield and the remaining starts.
3) Have Dusty Brown / George Kottaras waiting in the wings should the prospect struggle or go down to injury.

What say you OTM? Do you approve? And more importantly, do you want Jason Varitek back for 2008?

*Baseball players in Japan make substantially less than their American counterparts. This is part of the reason that coming to the U.S. can be so appealing.

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