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Report: Varitek considering retirement? 01.29.09 at 4:53 pm ET
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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.

Read More: Jason Varitek, Scott Boras,
What about George Kottaras? 01.26.09 at 3:22 pm ET
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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.’€

Read More: dusty brown, george kottaras, Jason Varitek, josh bard
Can Scott Boras and the Red Sox get along? 01.23.09 at 1:44 pm ET
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There is little doubt that, in the wake of the negotiations with free-agent Mark Teixeira, the Red Sox felt no shortage of hostility towards agent Scott Boras. There are questions about whether the agent was negotiating in good faith, about whether Teixeira ever had interest in going anywhere except the Yankees, about whether he was truly contemplating a Red Sox offer for eight years and $170 million or whether that was only being used as a bargaining chip with other clubs.

Given those concerns, and the lingering ill-will felt towards Boras, it seemed fair to wonder whether the Sox would do business with Boras anytime soon. For instance, there were suggestions that the chill with Boras might influence negotiations with Jason Varitek, a longtime Boras client, or whether the catcher might become some kind of pawn in a tug-of-war between the team and agent.

Red Sox President/CEO Larry Lucchino, in an interview this afternoon on the Dale & Holley Show, found it difficult to mask his feelings about Boras, though he did his best to avoid any conflagratory statements.

“What is the old Yogi Berra-ism? ‘€˜I don’€™t talk about the past. There’€™s no future in it,’€™” said Lucchino. “What’€™s even tougher is to bite my tongue and to not go on some kind of public rant or statement about negotiations that are past.”

Nonetheless, Lucchino made it clear that the team could not allow the Teixeira negotiations to influence other dealings with Boras. Not only does the team have the Varitek negotiations to consider, but it also has several Boras clients–including Daisuke Matsuzaka, J.D. Drew and Jacoby Ellsbury–who will necessitate contact beteen the club and the agent.

“All of this stuff goes into our memory bank,” said Lucchino. “Hopefully we will turn the page internally…

“There is a dilemma,” he continued. “You try to take each player as an individual case or individual matter. What you don’€™t want to do is have the sense ‘€“ if you will, in quotes ‘€“ of having one negotiation carry over and victimize another, as hard as that might be.

As for the business of the offseason, Lucchino said that it was largely concluded, with the exception of the questions surrounding the catching position and Varitek’s possible return. On the idea of the return of the 36-year-old catcher, Lucchino offered little illumination, though he did make clear that the club has not closed the door on the return of its captain.

“That’€™s an ongoing discussion, more appropriate to private communication than to blasting it across the radio waves,” said Lucchino. “Jason Varitek is someone who has contributed mightily over the course of a long career with us, and deserves every chance to come back and perform with a team he’€™s been identified with for many years.”

RELATED CONTENT

Because Data Doesn’t Lie – By Curt Schilling

Can Jason Varitek Escape His Predicament? – By Alex Speier

Why Do These Guys Love Scott Boras? – By Rob Bradford

Penny’s on the Dollar: The Red Sox’ Buy-Low Strategy to the Offseason – By Alex Speier

Read More: Jason Varitek, Larry Lucchino, Red Sox,
Sox owner Henry to meet Varitek 01.16.09 at 4:05 pm ET
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In an interview that will air tonight at 6:30pm on Comcast Sports Net New England, Red Sox principal owner John Henry told CSN that he is meeting tonight one-one-one with catcher Jason Varitek. Varitek, who has been with the Sox since 1997, remains a free-agent after rejecting the team’€™s offer of salary arbitration earlier this offseason.

In the interview, Henry also touches on the team’s contentious relationship with Varitek’s agent, Scott Boras, among other topics.

While the Sox have signed catcher Josh Bard and have spent much of the offseason exploring the possibility of a trade for a young catcher of the future, general manager Theo Epstein said last week that the team remained open to having Varitek return.

‘€œAs I said at the beginning of the offseason, he’€™s been a really important guy here to this organization and by no means have we shut the door on him,’€ Epstein said.

Henry’€™s interview will air tonight at 6:30pm and again at 10pm.

RELATED CONTENT

Can Jason Varitek Escape His Predicament? – By Alex Speier

What About Tek? – By Curt Schilling

Searching Within: The State of Red Sox Catching – By Alex Speier

Read More: Jason Varitek, John Henry, Red Sox,
Can Jason Varitek Escape His Predicament? 01.13.09 at 3:25 pm ET
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Had Jason Varitek (and agent Scott Boras) accepted salary arbitration, and with it a guarantee of more than $10 million for the 2009 season, none of this would have been an issue. But the Red Sox captain (and his agent) declined the offer, and the market for his services has been akin to a desert without an oasis.

There might have been teams interested in Varitek, well aware of his reputation as a masterful handler of a pitching staff, and optimistic that his dismal offensive season (.220/.313/.359/.672) represented at least something of an aberration, even for a 36-year-old catcher. His down-year offensively came in a season when he struggled to deal with a divorce and was also crushed by illness on a couple of occasions, creating some reason for teams to assume that, even if he had entered a period when career decline is likely, the 2008 campaign did not accurately represent his talents.

But when the Red Sox made their offer of arbitration at the beginning of December, the interest in Varitek–a Type A free agent whom a team would have to sacrifice a top draft pick to sign–withered. Teams that might have considered signing him to a short-term deal that minimized risk reversed course.

Tigers President/CEO/GM Dave Dombrowski said as much when his team acquired catcher Gerald Laird from the Rangers. He was not alone in that assessment.

“If we sign him and give up a draft pick,” one N.L. executive said last month, “it would have to be over my dead body.”

The Sox, who would not have to give up a pick to re-sign their Captain, have not closed the door to Varitek’s return. Last week, General Manager Theo Epstein said that the team had ruled nothing out, and had ruled nothing in.

“Jason is still out there,” Epstein said. “As I said at the beginning of the offseason, he’s been a really important guy here to this organization and by no means have we shut the door on him. There’s still some unfinished business there. And also, in the pursuit of a younger catcher.”

But what happens if the Sox acquire another catcher, decide that they do not want to sign Varitek, and other teams remain uninterested in signing him due to the cost of draft-pick compensation? In that scenario, would Varitek be condemned to inactivity by the absence of a market for his services?

Based on conversations with major league officials, the possibility certainly exists. So it is fair to wonder whether Varitek might escape from his predicament, and move into a position where he could sign with a club without requiring a new team to give up a draft pick. According to MLB rules, there are some scenarios that would permit that outcome.

No. 1 — Wait till June

As a Type A free-agent, Varitek would require draft-pick compensation from any club that chose to sign him to a major-league contract before the amateur draft in June. Once the draft takes place, however, a signing club would not have to give the Sox a draft pick as compensation for the catcher.

No. 2 — Red Sox good will

Hypothetically, the Red Sox could decide to waive their right to draft-pick compensation. For obvious reasons, no team has ever done so, nor would any team ever be likely to do so. Why give up a chance to get a free draft pick?

No. 3 — Sign and trade

Varitek could agree to an NBA-style sign-and-trade agreement with the Sox. A club that was reluctant to part with a first-round draft pick to sign Varitek to a free agent could instead agree that, if the Sox signed him for a contract that it found palatable, they would trade a player or prospect of some value (but less than the value of a draft pick) for him. Though Varitek has full no-trade protection with the Sox, he would likely waive that right in order to secure a job if one did not await him in Boston.

Still, that possibility seems at least somewhat limited, since the Sox would have little incentive to abandon the possibility that Varitek would yield a first-round draft pick. While it might seem difficult to imagine a team signing Varitek and giving up a pick now, what happens if a contender’s starting catcher gets injured in spring training? If that occurs, then the Sox might still get a draft pick that could yield a blue-chip prospect.

No. 4: Minor-league contract

In theory, another possibility might exist. If a Type A free-agent signs a minor-league contract, it would be up to the MLB Commissioner’s Office to determine whether he did so out of necessity (no real major-league offers from any team, presumably including the Sox) or to circumvent the compensation requirement. If the latter, then the Commissioner’s Office could award compensation.

In making a determination about the legitimacy of a minor-league deal with major-league terms–for instance, a deal that would give Varitek a minor-league salary but would guarantee him, say, $3 million if he made the major-league roster–MLB would examine:

–What the contract looks like;
–Whether the player had any offers for a major-league contract;
–When the player is called up.

For example, if a player signed a minor-league contract with major-league terms, the major-league terms called for a $1 million bonus upon being promoted to the major leagues and a $3 million salary, and the player was put on the 40-man roster during spring training, that would be scrutinized with immense skepticism by MLB officials. The Commissioner’s Office and teams would clearly frown upon circumvention, since there’s no reason, in theory, why a Type A free agent like Mark Teixeira couldn’t try to dodge draft-pick compensation by signing a minor-league contract that became an eight-year, $180 million deal if he made the major league team in spring training.

The idea of circumventing draft-pick compensation was a topic of conversation in big-league circles in the early days of free agency. As one executive put it, in the 1970s and 1980s, officials tried to figure out what the rules meant by looking for the loopholes to exploit. But only one attempt at circumvention of draft-pick compensation was believed to have been made, and that was in 1988. At that time, an arbitrator ruled that MLB could void such a deal, and no other attempts to circumvent have been made in more than 20 years.

All the same, this offseason is raising questions about the viability of the current system for draft-pick compensation for both players and teams. On the team side, with the Yankees having signed three Type A free agents who were offered salary arbitration (Mark Teixeira from the Angels, CC Sabathia from the Brewers, A.J. Burnett from the Blue Jays), both Milwaukee (which got the Yankees’ second-round pick) and Toronto (which received New York’s third-round pick) drew the short straws. Milwaukee could have been forgiven for being particularly frustrated, since the Brewers traded for Sabathia this summer in part because they expected to get another team’s first-round pick. (One executive noted that a second rounder has roughly a 10 percent chance of making it to the majors.)

On the player side, the offer of arbitration to Type A free agents has undermined the markets for some players. Interest in players like Varitek, shortstop Orlando Cabrera and reliever Juan Cruz has been minimal due to the requirement that clubs would have to give a draft pick to sign them.

The issue–and several others associated with flaws in the free-agent draft-pick compensation system–are almost sure to be visited in the negotiations of the next Collective Bargaining Agreement. Could the draft-pick compensation system be abolished, thereby allowing MLB to create fixed slotting for the amateur draft? That is an issue for another day.

For now, however, the fact of the matter is that players like Varitek and Cabrera who declined salary arbitration and face scant interest are likely kicking themselves, wondering why on earth they walked away from a salary that they will find almost impossible to match in the free-agent market, wondering whether there is any loophole that might permit them to escape from a trap in which they find themselves.

Read More: compensation, draft, free agency, free agent
Nothing new in Red Sox talks for catcher Miguel Montero at 9:48 am ET
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Little has changed, according to a major-league source, in trade conversations between the Diamondbacks and Red Sox about a potential trade of a Red Sox pitcher for Arizona catcher Miguel Montero. The source suggested that there was nothing new or concrete in discussions between the two sides, which have been in dialogue with each other for most of the offseason.

The Red Sox, of course, are still looking for a catcher to complement Josh Bard, and Montero remains on their radar as one possible solution. General manager Theo Epstein has noted that the team’€™s recent stockpile of arms depth’€”specifically, the signings of starters John Smoltz and Brad Penny and reliever Takashi Saito‘€”has positioned the club to trade from a position of strength.

‘€œWe feel like, if we build a really deep stable of pitching, it will help us out throughout the year. Maybe we don’€™t have to go out and find it and pay a premium for it during the season,’€ Epstein said this weekend at the Hot Stove Cool Music Baseball Roundtable. ‘€œAlso, we have other holes on the club, other positions we’€™re looking to fill. If we build up enough pitching depth, we feel that we can trade someone not named Justin Masterson to possibly fill one of the other spots on the club.’€

The Diamondbacks are in the market for a starting pitcher, but they are in a position to take a read-and-react approach as they figure out whether to use catcher Montero as a chip or whether they wait in hopes of seeing a drop in the free-agent asking prices of available starters as the start of the year nears.

Arizona’€™s recent agreement with starting catcher Chris Snyder to a contract extension through 2011 (with an option for 2012) would appear to consign Montero (presuming Snyder stays healthy) to a backup role for the foreseeable future. That being the case, it might appear that the D-backs would maximize their assets by trading Montero and receiving a return commensurate with a starting catcher.

But Snyder’€™s career high in plate appearances (404) and games caught (112), both set in 2008, suggest that the Diamondbacks could still capture value if they kept an above-average backup catcher on their roster. As such, the Diamondbacks do not feel compelled to make a move until they get a starter of their liking in return for a 25-year-old catcher who is still widely considered to have significant offensive upside. (Montero is a career .239/.309/.411 hitter in 468 career plate appearances.)

Arizona has never targeted Clay Buchholz or Masterson in its discussions with the Sox. The team has been interested in Bowden, and presumably, given its desire to receive a starter in return for Montero, it would need more than reliever Daniel Bard in a deal.

For the Sox, Montero is one of multiple options that the team can continue to explore. The team, according to Epstein, hasn’t shut the door on Jason Varitek returning (“We haven’t ruled anything in or out,” Epstein said) and the two catchers in Texas (Taylor Teagarden and Jarrod Saltalamacchia) also remain possibilities.

RELATED CONTENT

Michael Bowden talks about his offseason, including life as a trade rumor – By Alex Speier

Read More: chris snyder, Jason Varitek, miguel montero, Red Sox
A kind of update about Red Sox catching 01.05.09 at 2:28 pm ET
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Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein appeared at the Home for Little Wanderers in Jamaica Plain to promote the annual slate of Hot Stove, Cool Music events (baseball round-table, live music, etc.) that will take place this weekend and raise money for nine local charities. (More on that shortly, but for those who cannot wait for the updated blog, visit the Hot Stove, Cool Music website.)

Though Epstein’s appearance was meant to promote the weekend events and the work of the Home for Little Wanderers, he did take a moment to address his team’s catching situation in vague terms. Though the Sox have signed Josh Bard to a one-year deal (with a team option for 2010), clearly, the identity of the team’s contributors behind the plate remains a work in progress.

“We have Josh on board now,” Epstein said. “We’€™ll see what happens. We’€™ll see how it evolves.”

Conceivably, if the team does not stockpile more catchers, it could consider a platoon involving Bard and George Kottaras or Dusty Brown. If the team pursued that track, Kottaras and Brown would likely compete for the chance to be in a time-share with Bard during spring training.

The switch-hitting Bard has been much more productive as a right-handed hitter against left-handers (.288/.341/.443) than hitting left-handed (.256/.330/.376). That would suggest a more natural platoon with the left-handed Kottaras (who hit .243/.348/.456 with 22 homers for Triple-A Pawtucket in 2008 before a year-ending call-up), who also enjoys an advantage of sorts over Brown (.290/.377/.471 with the PawSox) in that he is now out of team options.

Of course, it is likely premature to contemplate a platoon of a player who spent 2008 in the minors with Bard. Jason Varitek remains unsigned, and the Sox can continue to explore options with him and other free-agent catchers at the same time that they continue to evaluate the trade market (Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Taylor Teagarden of the Rangers, Miguel Montero of the Diamondbacks, etc.).

Read More: dusty brown, george kottaras, Jason Varitek, josh bard
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