Varitek to return to Red Sox

Jason Varitek has exercised his $3 million option for 2010, the Red Sox announced Wednesday.

The Red Sox on Monday chose not to pick up their $5 million team option on the 37-year-old, leaving Varitek with the decision about his player option. Varitek hit .209 last season and saw his playing time decline in the second half after the acquisition of Victor Martinez.

"We're happy to have Jason back and we look forward to a good year from him in 2010," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein told reporters. "He means an awful lot to the organization on and off the field. He helps solidify our catching position also and is a big asset to the pitching staff."

With Epstein saying earlier this week Martinez will be the team's primary catcher in 2010, it is clear that Varitek will be returning as the backup.

Varitek has played 13 seasons with the Red Sox.

Since coming to Boston from Seattle with pitcher Derek Lowe for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb in July 1997, Varitek hit .259 with 175 homers and 705 RBIs. But he slumped the past two seasons, hitting .220 in 2008 and then a career-low. 209 this year. He also threw out only 10 of 118 runners attempting to steal this year, according to STATS LLC.

Frequently praised by pitchers for his game-handling ability, Varitek caught 108 games last year, 106 of them starts. Most were before Martinez arrived at the trade deadline. Varitek holds the Red Sox record with 1,381 games as a catcher.

The Associated Press and MLB.com contributed to this report.