BOSTON -- Jason Varitek has taken his first step in his transition from the playing field, the Boston Red Sox announcing that their former captain has been named a special assistant to general manager Ben Cherington.
The announcement comes just two days after Varitek, 40, said he was "close" to coming on board with the team for which he played 15 seasons in the big leagues before retiring this spring, and ends speculation that he will be a candidate for manager should the Sox, as expected, elect to replace Bobby Valentine.
"Jason was one of the most respected players of his era and will be a key voice as we move forward," Cherington said. "He will be involved in a number of areas, including major league personnel decisions, evaluations, and mentorship and instruction of young players. We are fortunate to have him in this role."
The hiring of Varitek is in keeping with the industry-wide practice of hiring recently retired players and giving them front-office experience that will acquaint them with the inner workings of a ballclub. One of Varitek's former teammates on the 2004 World Series winners, Bill Mueller, for example, is one of five former players who serve as special assistants to the Los Angeles Dodgers' baseball operations, another being former Red Sox pitcher Aaron Sele.
Mark Loretta, who played with Varitek on the Red Sox in 2006, is a special assistant to baseball operations with the San Diego Padres, as is Brad Ausmus, the former catcher who has been rumored as a possible candidate to manage the Red Sox if they make a change. Another former Sox player, Brady Anderson, is a special assistant for the Baltimore Orioles, while Rhode Island native Rocco Baldelli, who played briefly for the Sox, is a special assistant with the Tampa Bay Rays, the team with which he spent most of his career.
Varitek's hiring for a front-office position does not preclude the possibility that he will one day return to the field as a manager, a role for which former teammates have widely endorsed him.
"A no-brainer, if you ask me," said David McCarty, a reserve on the '04 team and Stanford alum. "Players would respect him instantly. He's the kind of guy that's always prepared and has a great work ethic. I think he'd be perfect. [Mike] Matheny, [Robin] Ventura, both guys stepped right in. I don't think [experience] is a necessity. It certainly helps, but Jason is a guy who knows the game, especially being a catcher. He knows pitching, he knows hitting, he knows all aspects of the game."
One of the reasons former players have value to big league front offices is that they often have numerous contacts among still-active players, which can prove extremely useful when researching possible trades and free-agent signings. The Red Sox baseball operations has not had a former player in the executive level since parting ways with Craig Shipley, who was one of Theo Epstein's most valued talent evaluators when they were together with the Red Sox. One source said that Shipley may soon join the front-office of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Varitek's hiring does not impact on Sox ownership's stated desire to hire a veteran talent evaluator or former GM to assist Cherington. Names that have surfaced in baseball circles include former Dodgers GM Danny Evans; Yankees special assistant Gordon Blakeley; former Angels scouting director Eddie Bane, now a scout with the Tigers; and Tony LaCava, the Blue Jays' assistant GM.
It is expected the Red Sox would want such a senior person in place before they embark on rebuilding their roster this winter after shedding $262 million in salary obligations in the late-August trade of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to the Dodgers. Varitek can be expected to have input on those roster decisions as well.