BOSTON -- Jason Varitek doesn't expect to hit like Carl
Yastrzemski or Jim Rice. When it comes to clubhouse leadership,
though, he is every bit their equal.
The Boston Red Sox appointed Varitek their third captain since
1923 after giving their longtime catcher a $40 million, four-year
contract. Varitek did not know of the honor until he was presented
with home and road jerseys bearing a red "C" on Friday to
formalize the leadership role he has grown into since joining the
team in 1997.
"It's not every day you're lucky enough to sign a player who
embodies everything you want your franchise to be," general
manager Theo Epstein said. "When you have that player, you don't
let him get away."
Rice was the last official Red Sox captain, serving from 1985
until he retired in 1989. "Captain Carl" held the role in 1966 and from
They were batting stars who earned the honor by virtue of their
stardom; Varitek is a potent offensive player, but what sets him
apart is his handling of the pitching staff and his presence in the
"I'm extremely honored right now. I don't really know what to
say," Varitek said. "If I can do half of what they did
statistically, I'll be all right."
Other players have been considered captains informally through
the years, like Varitek was until this week.
"We're not asking Jason to change at all by giving him that
captaincy," Epstein explained. "It's just a recognition of
something everybody knows."
"He's really the glue that holds the whole team together,"
Varitek originally sought a five-year deal worth $55 million
with a no-trade clause that would have guaranteed him the chance to
stay in Boston until he was 37. But rather than seek all offers, he
told agent Scott Boras to deal with the Red Sox first.
"Jason and (his wife) Karen told me specifically that my job is
to sit down and talk with Theo," Boras said.
"I honestly couldn't see him playing in another city," Karen
Varitek said. "I just don't think he would fit anywhere else."
Varitek is expected to be the last of the free agents signed by
the Red Sox, who have already added Edgar Renteria, David Wells,
Matt Clement, Wade Miller, John Halama and Matt Mantei to the team
that won the franchise's first World Series championship since
Garciaparra was traded to the Cubs in July, Martinez signed with
the Mets this month and the Red Sox didn't pursue Lowe as a free
agent. That means they will keep just one of the Big Four, but he's
the most important one.
"In our minds, he was the guy that we kind of couldn't live
without," Epstein said. "There weren't any real alternatives.
Jason's kind of the heart and soul of the Red Sox."
The Red Sox had considered reloading last winter rather than
letting the free agents walk and getting nothing in return. But
Epstein opted to keep the core together and Boston won its first
World Series since 1918.
"The transition worked out as well as it possibly could,"
Epstein said. "We kept everyone because we thought we had a real
chance to win, and that was realized."
Varitek hit a career-high .296 with 18 homers and 73 RBI last
season. Since his trade from Seattle in 1997, he has a .271 batting
average with 97 homers and 418 RBI in 832 games.
Varitek will receive a $4 million signing bonus paid over four
years and annual salaries of $9 million. The Red Sox have a policy
against no-trade clauses, so the sides came up with a creative
Varitek will get no-trade rights once he has spent eight
continuous years with the team. Four other Red Sox players,
including Manny Ramirez, have contracts that entitle them to
no-trade clauses that match those of their teammates; none of them
would reach that milestone in their current deals.
"We felt that loyalty should be rewarded. That's good policy,"
Epstein said. "The no-trade clause protection was the most
difficult part of the negotiations."
Now that he's signed, Varitek has a busy winter ahead. A
studious preparer, he has a half-dozen new pitchers to
familiarize himself with: starters Wade Miller, Matt Clement and
David Wells, swingman John Halama and reliever Matt Mantei with one
spot left to be filled.
"The biggest thing is winning. To do it the first year -- we all
know how long it took," Varitek said. "Hopefully, we have a
foundation big enough to do it again."