Red Sox did well by bringing back Varitek

January, 30, 2009
Our man Jayson Stark on the Never Ending Story that has finally ended with a two-year deal that guarantees Jason Varitek $5 million this year and $3 million next year (if he wants it) …

    Varitek earned $10 million last year ($3 million of it deferred without interest) in the final season of a four-year, $40 million contract he'd signed in December 2004. The Red Sox offered him arbitration nearly eight weeks ago, and had he accepted, he probably would have earned in the neighborhood of $11 million this season.

    But when Varitek declined, it left him with no leverage and no market elsewhere. Other teams weren't willing to surrender a first-round draft pick for a soon-to-be 37-year-old catcher who batted .220, with a career-low .672 OPS, last season. And the Red Sox, knowing Varitek had no other teams pursuing him, weren't willing to pay him a salary even close to what he made last year.

    Varitek, on the other hand, never seemed to have much interest in playing elsewhere -- which even further depressed his market. The Boston Globe reported this week he was considering retirement, or positioning himself as a midseason free agent, rather than accept the club's offer. But there are no indications the Red Sox believed Varitek had any serious intention to retire.

Finally, this offseason drama has played itself out. It's easy to conclude that Scott Boras cost his client -- over the next two years -- as much as somewhere between $7 million and $10 million, which is of course a considerable sum even for someone like Jason Varitek. But that assumes that Boras simply tells his clients what to do, and it's done. The agent-client relationship often isn't quite that simple. For all we know, Boras told Varitek that not accepting arbitration would be a significant risk, and Varitek elected to roll the dice. Great athletes tend to be hyper-competitive, and think they can't lose. For all we know, Boras was the voice of reason in this affair.

But today, all we really know is that they gambled and lost, and that neither is likely to be forced to sell his mansion(s). So let's not shed too many tears over those lost millions. Let's instead figure out what this means for the Red Sox.

Can they win with Varitek behind the plate for another season or two? Sure. Last season, he played about as poorly as a player with his talent can play, and the Red Sox won 95 games. So, yeah.

Is Varitek actually worth $5 million this year, and another $5 million (or perhaps $3 million) next year? Probably. According to FanGraphs, Varitek was worth $5.6 million last year -- again, playing about as poorly as he could play -- and $12 million the year before. But FanGraphs doesn't even attempt to quantify catchers' defensive value because … well, because it's really, really hard. But there's good reason to think Varitek will bounce back somewhat, and thus be worth more than what the Red Sox are paying him.

I see just one negative here. It's possible that Varitek's presence will unfortunately delay the Red Sox's search for Varitek's eventual replacement. Was there a deal to be made for Taylor Teagarden this winter, but it wasn't made because everyone wanted the old guy back? Was Miguel Montero available for a reasonable price? Someday we'll probably know all these things. Today, all we know is that the Red Sox have locked up a viable major league catcher -- and their captain, not incidentally -- for a reasonable amount of money. Today was a good day.


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