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Reading (Too Much) Into The Red Sox' Arbitration Offers

By now it is common knowledge that the Red Sox have offered arbitration to Victor Martinez, Adrian Beltre, and Felipe Lopez, and declined to offer it to Jason Varitek and Mike Lowell.

The offer to Victor Martinez ended up being inconsequential since the Tigers signed him before the deadline, thus forfeiting their draft pick regardless. The offer to Adrian Beltre will bring in another pair of picks should the third baseman head elsewhere in the coming weeks. On the flip side of things, declining to offer Type-B free agent Mike Lowell arbitration was a no-brainer, what with retirement getting in the way of things.

The interesting choices came in Felipe Lopez and Jason Varitek.

The intricacies of the offer to Lopez are no great mystery to the readers of this site. From the get-go, Lopez has been all about arbitration. If he declines and signs elsewhere, the Sox get a free supplemental pick. If he accepts, then he's a cheap backup infielder. While the Sox would very likely prefer him to decline, it's a no-lose scenario. Often, the team will even have reassurances from the player that they won't accept arbitration, such as in the Billy Wagner trade last year, and Javier Vazquez' case this year.

So why couldn't the Red Sox get the same from Jason Varitek? A Type-B free agent, it seems like Varitek's time with the Red Sox has run out. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is currently being penciled in as the team's backup catcher behind a starter to be acquired later, possibly in a platoon situation. And while the Red Sox were happy to have Varitek as Victor Martinez' backup last year, it's unlikely they'll feel the same way about having two question marks in the same group.

Given that Jason Varitek likely wants to play, then, it should have been an easy conversation. "Hey, Jason, we wanted to let you know that, while we're offering you arbitration, there's probably not any room for you on the team." If any team picks him up, the Red Sox get a free pick. And presumably Tek wouldn't be too interested in returning to a team that he won't find any playing time on. Why not offer arbitration? I can think of only one real reason: they don't think there's any interest in Varitek.

Consider the scenario: Having received the offer for arbitration, Varitek goes out and tries to get a feel for the market for him. He finds nothing. With catchers like Miguel Olivo and Yorvit Torrealba flooding the market, there's little demand for the veteran with a good reputation in intangibles, but little to offer at the plate and a bum arm behind it.

With such a lack of demand, Varitek quickly realizes that his best chance at getting anything more than a minor league deal with a spring training invite is to jump back aboard with the Red Sox. He accepts arbitration, and suddenly the Red Sox are not only out millions of dollars on a catcher they don't need, but faced with the very real PR problem of actually having to cut Jason Varitek.

It's all speculation, really, and it's entirely possible that there's a lot more to the situation than this. But for a team that puts a good deal of value on draft picks, it's somewhat difficult to find a scenario where the Red Sox offering Varitek arbitration is a bad thing. Maybe the Sox had some better idea that Varitek would accept arbitration no matter what. Or maybe the Sox just plain missed out on an opportunity.