Archive for January, 2009

Varitek, Sox agree to foundation of a deal

Friday, January 30th, 2009

According to a source familiar with the negotiations, the Red Sox and Jason Varitek have agreed to the foundation of a deal which will pay the catcher a guaranteed $5 million for 2009, while allowing for a $5 million team option or a $3 million player option for 2010. Boston.com is also reporting that Varitek can earn up to $2 million in incentives in ’10. The deal is unofficial until Varitek has a physical next week. 

SI.com was the first to report the preliminary agreement.

Much more later, but until then I give you two of our bloggers viewpoint on the matter, Gary from Chapel Hill and Curt Schilling, presenting the pros and cons of bringing the captain back.

Stats Scott Boras Didn’t Want the Red Sox To See

The Merits of Jason Varitek

And, for more Varitek, see Alex Speier’s story on why the Sox didn’t have a suitable replacement in the minors when this saga came around.

Here is the AP story

Varitek non-update

Friday, January 30th, 2009

There’s very little to report on the Jason Varitek front, according to a source familiar with negotiations. While there seems a desire for a decision–one way or the other–to be reached today (the Red Sox did articulate a Friday deadline for the talks, though the notion of an 8:30 a.m. deadline appears to have been erroneous), the source said that it would be “premature” to say that a decision would or even must be reached today.

If the two sides do reach an agreement, an official announcement would be unlikely until next week, since Varitek would still have to come to Boston for a physical prior to making a deal official. As we wait for some evidence of movement in either direction, it is worth comtemplating Varitek’s performance.

Gary From Chapel Hill looks at the offensive limitations of Varitek in recent years

Quantifying Varitek’s defense is more difficult; in this article, I looked at the performance of members of the Red Sox pitching staff last year with both Varitek and Kevin Cash behind the plate

This analysis (hat-tip: Rob Neyer) suggests that Red Sox pitchers have not been discernably better with Varitek behind the plate than with other catchers

Of course, Scott Boras has been aware of these factors throughout the negotiations, perhaps helping to explain why, at the winter meetings (just after Varitek and Boras declined the Red Sox offer of arbitration), the agent focused on his client’s intangibles in emphasizing his value.

‘€œRepresenting a catcher is like buying submarines,’€ said Boras. ‘€œYou have to look way under the water to find out what’€™s going on.’€

Varitek deadline

Friday, January 30th, 2009

A Red Sox official denied a report that catcher Jason Varitek faced an 8:30 a.m. deadline to accept or walk away from the Red Sox’ one- and two-year contract offers, suggesting that the situation would not be resolved this morning, and was unlikely to reach a conclusion until at least this afternoon, and perhaps later. We will keep you updated as the situation develops.

Schilling expects Varitek back in Boston

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Curt Schilling, in his weekly appearance on the Big Show, suggested that based on his recent conversations with Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek, he expects the career Sox to come to terms on a one- or two-year deal.

SCHILLING: “I’€™ve talked with Jason a couple different times about this. I think there’€™s probably some discussion going on around the parameters of a deal since it was put on the table. In fact, I know there (has been). I think you’€™re going to end up with a deal that nets Jason the $10 million over two years, somehow guaranteed or tied into some incentives, that keeps him here, or I think he might end up taking the one-year deal. I’€™m not positive, but at the end of the day I think it’€™s going to be Jason Varitek catching for the Boston Red Sox, which is really all I care about.

GLENN ORDWAY: If he can get the $10 million over two years, that makes a lot more sense.

SCHILLING. After he fires his agent, it makes a lot more sense.

ORDWAY: You think that’€™s a possibility?

SCHILLING. No I don’€™t, because I know how much Jason thinks about Scott. But I would probably be on day six of having no agent if it had been me. But again, he’€™s been with Jason for a long time, through a lot of stuff.

Report: Varitek considering retirement?

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

This morning, WEEI’s Michael Holley suggested that negotiations between the Red Sox and catcher Jason Varitek showed little sign of progress. Here’s the exchange between Dale and Holley:

Holley: I have moles, who have told me that if the deadline were today, which is Thursday, we’€™re a couple days away or a day away-
Dale: Yeah supposedly it’€™s tomorrow.
Holley: If the deadline were today, no deal.
Dale: OK and that’€™s what I’€™m asking, I mean are you getting indications of that or is it an opinion? Which is perfectly valid as well I just wasn’€™t sure what it was based on.
Holley: If the deadline were today, no deal.

Now, Tony Massarotti of boston.com, citing a baseball source, reports that the catcher “is very seriously considering the option of sitting out the 2009 season and/or retiring rather than accepting the contract offer made to him last week.”

To review: the Red Sox offered Varitek a one-year $5 million deal with a 2010 club option for another $5 million or, should the club not exercise it, a $3 million player option. (The Sox also offered a straight one-year, $5 million offer for 2009 without the options.) That proposal came with a deadline, which Massarotti reports is for Friday morning.

It seems hard to fathom Varitek retiring due to a perceived slight. In the past, he has expressed a desire to play for as long as he can, likely into his 40s. It could be that the notion of retirement is being used to create leverage where none exists- just as agent Scott Boras used the threat of a return to Japan by Daisuke Matsuzaka in a largely unsuccessful effort to get the Red Sox to adjust their demands in December 2006.

Clearly, the next 24 hours will be fascinating to monitor, with some resolution perhaps near at hand for the longtime staple of the Red Sox.

Lowell takes swings, but gets word of no WBC

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

The reality of rehab hit Mike Lowell in an uneven way Tuesday.

There was good news — the third baseman swung a bat for the first time since Game 3 of the American League Division Series, taking 50 cuts off of a batting tee.

Then came the bad.

The Red Sox third baseman, who continues to rehab from surgery on his torn hip labrum, received a letter from Lou Melendez, the general manager of the Puerto Rico World Baseball Classic team, yesterday. In the note, which was directed to Lowell’s agents, Sam and Seth Levinson, Melendez informed the 34-year-old that he would not be eligible to play for Puerto Rico in the upcoming WBC.

Melendez explained in the letter that because of Lowell’s Oct. 20 surgery, the Red Sox requesting that the third baseman not participate, and the fact the third baseman wouldn’t meet many of the levels of criteria used to determine availability, he was being taken off Puerto Rico’s list of eligible players. Lowell had originally been put on the club’s provisional roster.

While the news didn’t come as a surprise — the current scheduled progression for Lowell’s rehab suggests he might not be ready to participate in full games by the time Puerto Rico plays it opener on March 7 — it still allowed for some disappointment. Lowell’s father, Carl, is one of the most revered baseball players ever to represent Puerto Rico, having been inducted into the territory’s Athletic Hall of Fame.

RELATED LINKS:

Lowell focused on hip, not rumors

Brady serves as cautionary tale for Lowell

Report: Rangers want Buchholz for Saltalamacchia

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

This doesn’t exactly qualify as breaking news, since it merely reinforces the same notion that has been floated all winter, but the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reports that the Rangers remain open to dealing catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia in exchange for pitcher Clay Buchholz. Of course, the crux of the dilemma in discussions between the Red Sox and Rangers all offseason has been the unwillingness of the Red Sox to part with the 24-year-old at a time when they would be selling low on a pitcher who was considered one of the top handful of prospects in baseball a year ago.

During the winter meetings, Rangers President Nolan Ryan told the Providence Journal that Buchholz “would look really good in a Texas uniform” (a comment that a club spokesman claimed was a joke), prompting Sox G.M. Theo Epstein to underscore the value that Boston attaches to a talented pitcher who struggled to a 2-9 record and 6.75 ERA with the Sox in 2008:

‘€œIn our minds he’€™s a top of the rotation starter who we control for six years,’€ said Epstein. ‘€œHe’€™s a very big piece and we value him tremendously.’€

Hail to the Mayor: Sean Casey Retires

Tuesday, January 27th, 2009

Early this afternoon, Sean Casey will announce his formal retirement in order to pursue a career as an analyst for the MLB Network. In doing so, he is walking away from the game at a most unusual time.

Casey had a fascinatingly odd year in 2008. He hit .322 with a .381 OBP and .394 slugging mark and no homers. He is one of just two players this decade (along with Norris Hopper in 2007) to hit .320 or better without a homer (min. 200 plate appearances). In fact, Casey is one of just 48 players since 1901 to accomplish the feat–a development that was helped by the deep dimensions of right field in Fenway Park. Casey slammed two balls off the low fence in straightaway right field, at which point he all but raised a white flag on the idea of hitting a homer at Fenway Park.

As unusual as Casey’s high-average/low-power combination was, it is even more unusual to see a player walk away from the game after a season in which he has proven such an impressive ability to collect hits. Casey becomes just the 12th player to walk away from the game–and the first since 1930–after a season in which he hit at least .320 with 200 or more plate appearances.

The other players who fall into that category comprise one of three distinct sets:

1) Players who were kicked out of baseball as part of the Black Sox Scandal:

–Joe Jackson (.382, 1920)
–Happy Felsch (.338, 1920)
–Buck Weaver (.331, 1920)

2) Hall of Famers:

–Zack Wheat, who hit .327 as a 39-year-old in 1927
–Ty Cobb, who hit .323 as a 41-year-old with the Philadelphia A’€™s in 1928

3) Some complete mysteries with outstanding names, all of whom finished their careers in 1930 or earlier:

–Monk Sherlock, who hit .324 in his one and only major-league season in 1930.
–Walt McCredie, who hit .324 for Brooklyn in his one and only big-league season in 1903.
–Chicken Hawks, who had a cup of coffee in 1921, then hit .322 in 1925, his only season with more than 100 plate appearances.
–John Sullivan, who hit .322 in 1921 during a season in which he was traded from the Boston Braves to the Cubs as a 31-year-old. Sullivan’€™s second big-league season was also his last.
–Bill ‘€œWagon Tongue’€ Keister–a man who, like Casey, was known for his love of gabbing–who hit .320 in 1903.
–Sam Dungan, who hit a career-best .320 in 1901 and then never played a big-league game again.

Because all of those playing careers ended in 1930 or before, none of those players had a chance to produce a timeless video blog to chronicle his experiences like WEEI.com’s own Casey did with the estimable City Hall. One can only hope that the MLB Network will find something as classic as Casey’s memorable chat with Paul Byrd (who is also drifting between the netherworlds of retirement and the continuation of a playing career) about a certain pox in baseball circles:

Now THAT is a walkoff season.

Some other notes on the life and times of Sean Casey, courtesy of Gary From Chapel Hill:

* – Since the beginning of the 2003 season, Casey has batted .320 against left-handed pitchers, the 2nd best mark by a left-handed batter during that span (min. 440 PA vs lefties):

Ichiro Suzuki – .348
Sean Casey – .320
Todd Helton – .311
Barry Bonds – .303
Juan Pierre – .301

* – With a runner on 3rd (at least) and less than 2 outs, Casey is a career .472 hitter. That’€™s the highest average in those situations since at least 1956 (min. 200 such PA):

Sean Casey – .472 (118 for 250)
Magglio Ordonez – .455 (152 for 334)
Paul LoDuca – .454 (74 for 163)
Placido Polanco – .447 (85 for 190)
David Wright – .447 (76 for 170)

* – In his career, Casey has multiple HR in 10 different games and his team is 5-5 in those games, making him one of only five players with winning percentages of .500 or less in multi-HR games in the last 53 seasons:

Robin Yount – .429 (6-8)
Bobby Bonilla – .500 (10-10)
Don Demeter – .500 (7-7)
Jim Lemon – .500 (5-5)
Sean Casey – .500 (5-5)

What about George Kottaras?

Monday, January 26th, 2009

For the most part, the focus on the Red Sox‘€™ catching plans for 2009 has focused on two elements: 1) Whether the team will re-sign Jason Varitek; and 2) Whether the team will trade for a catcher of the future.

Even the Red Sox have given the impression that they would prefer to have one of those scenarios come to fruition. The team has given some mention of the possibility of entering spring training with free-agent signee Josh Bard and minor leaguers George Kottaras and Dusty Brown. But team officials’€”including G.M. Theo Epstein and CEO/President Larry Lucchino‘€”have suggested that there is ‘€œunfinished business’€ with the catching personnel.

Nonetheless, it is an interesting time for the minor-league catchers in the Sox organization, particularly for Kottaras. The 25-year-old, who was acquired from the Padres in exchange for David Wells in 2006, is coming off of an intriguing second full season in the Sox organization.

With Triple-A Pawtucket last year, he hit just .243 but demonstrated excellent patience (64 walks, .348 OBP) and impressive power (22 homers, .456 slugging), earning a September call-up to the majors so he could work with both bullpen/catching coach Gary Tuck and Jason Varitek. Kottaras later enjoyed a strong performance during a brief stint in the Dominican Winter League, hitting .308/.419/.462/.881.

Defensively, Kottaras feels that he has made notable progress behind the plate, both in his ability to work with pitchers and call games, as well as in his ability to block pitches. He suggests that there is more to do, noting a desire to improve his receive and frame pitches for umpires.

‘€œI’€™ve come a long way throughout my career. Last year, I had a great season. But you can always learn,’€ Kottaras said earlier this month while in Boston for a Jimmy Fund event. ‘€œI learned a lot when I was up in the big leagues in September, spending everyday with Gary Tuck and watching ‘€˜Tek do his thing. I’€™m just trying to continue moving forward in my progression.’€

Now, he is out of minor-league options, and so he faces a spring training in which the Red Sox’€™ catching situation is not only unsettled, but also in which the Sox must either keep him in the majors or make him available to other clubs through the waiver process. One way or another, it seems likely that Kottaras is at a career crossroads this spring.

‘€œI try not to (think about it) at all. Nothing’€™s going to be handed to me. I’€™ve just got to come in and work hard. I’€™ve got to fight for a job, basically. I never take things lightly,’€ said Kottaras. ‘€œThe indication is come to spring training ready to go, and try to win a job. That’€™s pretty much it. It’€™s exciting.’€

Casey retiring, headed to MLB Network

Saturday, January 24th, 2009

Former Red Sox first baseman Sean Casey is officially retiring, having signed on with the MLB Network. Casey, The 34-year-old, who played in 69 games with Boston last season, hitting .322, finishes his 12-season career with a .302 lifetime batting average to go along with three All-Star appearances. Casey’s role with the network has yet to be defined.

We at WEEI.com wish him luck, and feel fortunate to be there when this whole media thing began for him …

In other Red Sox news, it was learned that although he has been placed on the initial roster submitted by Japan for the World Baseball Classic, Sox reliever Hideki Okajima will not be participating the event.