It took nearly three months, but the Boston Red Sox have reached an agreement to bring back catcher Jason Varitek on a one-year, $5 million contract, pending a physical and the execution of final details, two major league sources said Friday.
The contract would include a 2010 club option for $5 million. If the Red Sox decline their option, Varitek would hold a player option for $3 million.
There also is $2 million in potential incentives in the player option in 2010, which would be triggered if Varitek plays 80 to 120 games. If he were to play 120 games that season, he could earn $5 million even in the player option.
Under either scenario, the maximum total value of the contract could not exceed $10 million.
Varitek agreed to the Red Sox's final offer only after the club set a deadline of Friday for him to accept. Had he declined or not responded, the team was gearing up to trade for another catcher. Boston talked to the Rangers about Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden, to the Diamondbacks about Miguel Montero, and to the Mets about Brian Schneider. They also had kicked around a number of other names as fallbacks.
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 signed in December 2004. The Red Sox offered him arbitration nearly eight weeks ago. 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, this past 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 this past year.
Varitek, on the other hand, never seemed to have much interest in playing elsewhere -- which depressed his market even further. The Boston Globe reported this week that he was considering retirement, or positioning himself as a midseason free agent, rather than accepting the club's offer. But there are no indications the Red Sox believed Varitek had any serious intention to retire.
Friends who spoke with Varitek this winter say he never understood why the Red Sox wanted to cut his pay, why they were willing to guarantee his deal for only one year, why the economy and his 2008 struggles had cut into his market value, or, remarkably, why his decision to decline arbitration was costing him so much money and limiting other teams' interest.
But in the end, he made the only logical decision -- a decision to stay with the only big league team he has ever played for, rather than gambling that a better deal would come along in February or March or even July.
Varitek is Boston's career leader in games at catcher with 1,273. Carlton Fisk, who also played with the Chicago White Sox, is second with 990 games with the Red Sox. Varitek was obtained July 31, 1997, in one of the most lopsided trades in Red Sox history -- they also picked up pitcher Derek Lowe from the Seattle Mariners for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb.
SI.com was the first to report that Varitek and Boston had reached an agreement.
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com. ESPN.com's Jerry Crasnick and The Associated Press contributed to this report.