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What Jason Varitek really taught Jarrod Saltalamacchia 02.18.12 at 11:09 am ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — If Jason Varitek has indeed caught his last game in a Red Sox uniform and will be retiring his spring, Jarrod Saltalamacchia will remember one act of kindness and generosity in particular.

Saltalamacchia was with the Braves in 2007 as a minor leaguer and made the trip to Fort Myers for a spring training game. He sent a Red Sox No. 33 jersey over to the Red Sox clubhouse to have the captain sign for him.

“He signed a jersey for me, and on it it said, ‘catch with pride.’ You take that and that’s what he’s done his whole career and I’m going to do the same.”

Now, ironically, Saltalamacchia – after taking over primary catching responsibilities in 2011 – is in position to assume the leadership role of the Red Sox pitching staff, with Kelly Shoppach and Ryan Lavarnway behind him.

Salty said Friday he hasn’t been preoccupied with whether Varitek will accept the minor league contract offer from the Red Sox and report to camp on Sunday.

“Honestly, I haven’t really though about it,” Saltalamacchia said. “I can’t assume anything. I don’t know where he’s at. I don’t know if he’s thinking about coming. I know they’ve offered him a minor league invite.

“I’m just preparing for myself. It’s like a game day, if I’m not playing, not in the lineup, I’m still going to prepare to play that day. So, I’m prepared for him to be here and for him not to be here.”

The final words of advice he take from Varitek?

“Just be yourself, be who you are,” Saltalamacchia said. “People are going to like you for who you are. People are going to respect you for what you do about your business. There’s a lot of little things as far as catching, that I learned. It’s mainly to be a good person, a good teammate and respect the game.”

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As Tim Wakefield retires, Red Sox now await the decision of Jason Varitek 02.17.12 at 7:26 pm ET
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With Tim Wakefield retiring, will jason Varitek follow suit? (AP)

FORT MYERS – Jason Varitek was not at JetBlue Park on Friday as Tim Wakefield announced his retirement. But the future of the longtime Red Sox captain remained very much a part of the proceedings.

Just as they did for Wakefield, the Sox have offered Varitek a minor league contract with an invitation to come to big league camp and compete for a roster spot. Just as was the case for Wakefield, the Sox are allowing a longtime franchise cornerstone the space to make his own decision about his future.

“We told him that there was an opportunity to come to camp, and gave him, as we did to Tim, gave him as much of the landscape as we could in terms of what that would mean. … We felt like they had earned that, to be given some sort of stake in the decision and we’ve tried to give them as much information as we can,” said Sox GM Ben Cherington. “[It is] a unique situation, to put that in a player’s court and not normally what we do. In these two particular cases, we felt that there was merit to doing it that way because of what the players meant to the team.”

Cherington said that at this point, with pitchers and catchers due to report on Sunday, he is not expecting any additions to the roster. However, the decision will ultimately be Varitek’s as to what to do with his career. Wakefield said that he has talked with his teammate of 15 seasons this offseason, but that it is impossible for him to use his own situation to make any assessments about what is right for Varitek. Read the rest of this entry »

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Jarrod Saltalamacchia: Added pressure on ourselves is ‘where we faltered’ at 3:24 pm ET
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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Whether or not Jason Varitek reports to camp this spring with the Red Sox, the leadership of the pitching staff will fall directly on the shoulders of Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

And Friday afternoon, after a grueling day of work in the burning sun that baked both of his forearms, Saltalamacchia said he doesn’t feel any added pressure after “The Collapse” from last September.

“I don’t feel any added pressure, no, because we’re going to have to do it together,” Saltalamacchia said. “When I mean leader, I’m not going to have a ‘C’ on my chest, I’m not going to tell people what to do. But I’m going to go about my business the right way, lead by example a little bit on that front, and get to know the pitchers, get to know them a little more and find out what we can do.”

Saltalamacchia said he’s gotten a head start on the season by speaking with new pitching coach Bob McClure.

“I spoke with Bob, and he’s been great as far as the pitching side of it and getting feedback from him has been great,” Saltalamacchia said.

“I don’t think last year there was any kind of [lack of] leadership. We all knew what to do. You’re with a team that’s been there, done that. Guys with two rings, guys with one so we knew what we had to do. I think we might have put a little added pressure on ourselves and that’s where we faltered.”

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Larry Lucchino on Red Sox payroll, Carl Crawford, David Ortiz, Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield and more 02.10.12 at 7:26 pm ET
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Larry Lucchino

Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino rebutted claims that his team is scaling back its spending this offseason, saying in multiple settings that his team plays on blowing past the $178 million luxury tax payroll and suggesting that the Sox will exceed the $189 million franchise payroll record, which was set last season.

In an appearance on Sirius/XM MLB Network Radio’s “Inside Pitch,” Lucchino painted a picture of a far-reaching commitment by team owners to the payroll, both over the duration of the group’s tenure (which began in 2002) and in 2012.

“Look at what we’ve done and not what we say. Since we have been here — we are now beginning our 11th year — our payroll has consistently been at the top end of Major League Baseball,” said Lucchino. “It has not been No. 1. That position has been reserved, probably permanently, for the New York Yankees, but it has been second most every year, and we have invested lots of money in amateur draft picks. We sign our draft picks at a much higher percentage than used to be the case. We’ve invested in international signings — you can look at some of our Cuban players and some of our Japanese players — and so we have invested dollars into this franchise because we recognize that the fundamental question about a franchise and about its ownership is, is there a commitment to winning. I think that our track record demonstrates that there is that commitment.

“Now, this year, if you want to talk specifically about 2012, we will have the highest payroll in the history of the Boston Red Sox in 2012,” Lucchino continued. “Will we eclipse the luxury tax threshold? To be sure, we will — once again. So I think the talk of us not spending needs to be viewed in the context of real facts and in comparisons to real dollars.”

In earlier comments to MLB.com, Lucchino also disputed the notion that the Red Sox’ spending has been impacted by the Fenway Sports Group’s ownership of the Liverpool Football Club.

“That has not been the case,” Lucchino said of the idea that the Red Sox ownership group was channeling its resources towards soccer players. “There has not been a situation where that was cited for a reason for us not to do something here.”

Asked for how he feels when his team is characterized as being “cheap,” Lucchino suggested amusement.

“It makes me laugh. It just proves the old adage that you can’t please all of the people all of the time. You certainly can’t please all of the sportswriters much of the time. But that’s OK,” said Lucchino. “What’s important to us is that our fans realize that we are in this to win it, and we operate accordingly.

“Are there financial constraints from time to time? Of course there are. No one has an unlimited budget to do absolutely everything they want to do. But with some common-sense parameters, as I said, we’re going to have the highest payroll in the history of the Boston Red Sox this year, and the commitment to winning from the very highest levels — John Henry, Tom Werner — throughout the entire organization, there is a powerful sense of obligation that our job is to commit to win, provide our fans with entertaining, competitive, winning baseball.”

(For a detailed look at the Red Sox payroll, click here.)

Lucchino also touched on a number of additional topics. Among them: Read the rest of this entry »

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Kelly Shoppach agreement spells likely end for Jason Varitek with Red Sox 12.13.11 at 11:22 am ET
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The Red Sox have agreed to a one-year, $1.35 million deal with catcher Kelly Shoppach. (AP)

The writing had been on the wall for some time. Whenever he was asked about Jason Varitek this offseason, Red Sox GM Ben Cherington said that he would inform the 15-year veteran if the team decided to go another direction. Now, it appears that the Sox have decided to go in another direction.

According to a major league source, the Red Sox have reached an agreement with catcher Kelly Shoppach on a one-year, $1.35 million deal. (The deal was first reported by Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com.) The contract is guaranteed.

Shoppach, taken with the Sox’ top pick in the 2001 draft, hit .176 (fifth lowest in the majors among the 355 players with 200 or more plate appearances) with a .268 OBP, .339 slugging mark, .607 OPS (325th in the majors) and 11 homers in 87 games with the Rays last season. It marked the third straight season in which the 31-year-old has seen declines in his average, OBP, slugging percentage and OPS since a career-best 2008 season in which Shoppach hit .261/.348/.517/.865 with 21 homers for the Indians.

However, Shoppach had far better numbers against left-handed pitchers. He hit .241 with a .344 OBP, .444 slugging mark, .788 OPS and seven homers against southpaws. Moreover, he threw out 41 percent of potential base-stealers last year, the top caught stealing percentage in the American League.

Shoppach made his big league debut with the Sox in 2005, playing nine games in the majors and going 0-for-15. He was traded that offseason to the Indians as part of the deal that resulted in the acquisition of center fielder Coco Crisp. Shoppach spent four years with the Indians before being traded to the Rays prior to the 2010 season.

The Sox had expressed a desire to have a veteran in spring training who would compete with Ryan Lavarnway for the job of a complement to expected starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Shoppach appears to be that catcher, something that would appear to render Varitek expendable. Moreover, the guaranteed deal for Shoppach also increases the likelihood that the Sox can return Lavarnway to Triple-A so that he can get regular playing time behind the plate to complete his minor league development. Read the rest of this entry »

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Red Sox prepared to cut ties to Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield 12.07.11 at 4:38 am ET
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Longtime team staples Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek may have played their last games for the Red Sox. (AP)

DALLAS — It was not a definitive verdict. Red Sox GM Ben Cherington did not say that a pair of franchise linchpins would not be back.

But he came close. The words did not represent a significant departure from previous statements this winter, but nonetheless, Cherington made it sound like it is increasingly likely that knuckleballer Tim Wakefield (after 17 years with the Sox) and catcher Jason Varitek (15 years into his Sox tenure) may have seen the end of their days in Boston.

“We’re not ready to commit to anything. I have spoken to both and plan to talk to them both again. Certainly we’ll do so before we make any final decision,” said Cherington. “I have a great deal of respect for both and feel like the best thing for the team and the best thing for them is, if there’s not a real role on the team, I’m not sure it’s fair, I’m not sure it’s the right thing for them or the team. We haven’t gotten to that point yet. I’ll talk to them when we get closer to that.”

Varitek, who turns 40 in April, hit .221 with a .300 OBP, .423 slugging mark and 11 homers in 68 games in 2011. Wakefield, 45, went 7-8 with a 5.12 ERA last season, making 23 starts and pitching 154 2/3 innings, his most since 2008. Wakefield remains seven wins short of the Red Sox’ all-time career wins record.

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Ben Cherington on M&M talks Bobby Valentine, Theo Epstein, rabid Sox fans 12.02.11 at 12:41 pm ET
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Ben Cherington (left) welcomed Bobby Valentine to the Red Sox Thursday. (AP)

Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington joined the Mut & Merloni show Friday morning, one day after introducing Bobby Valentine as manager.

Cherington took the hosts through the process of how Valentine was selected, explaining why he was added to the list of candidates late.

“I met with Bobby, I think it was the first week of November, third or fourth, somewhere around there,” Cherington recalled. “I had a couple-of-hours meeting with him where we really just talked baseball, talked about the managing job, talked a little bit about our team. That was the first time I had met him. And I was impressed. He struck me clearly as a really smart guy, engaging, passionate guy, cared a lot. And he really wanted another shot at managing in the big leagues. And he was particularly interested in Boston, he fit and the chance to win and all those things.

“After that meeting I began to think about it more, but still focused on the candidates that we were bringing in formally. I think a couple of things happened as the process moved forward. No. 1, we got to know a lot of candidates and really enjoyed that process. Everyone we talked to would be capable of being an excellent manager. Certainly, Dale Sveum‘s going to get that chance in Chicago.

“But we did feel as we moved deeper into the process that experienced mattered. I think [it was] when we went from thinking about our next manager in sort of a theoretical sense to thinking about it in more of a practical sense and a real sense. It’s not just philosophy and qualities and the sort-of softer subjects, but the guy’s got to hit the ground running and know how to navigate the land mines that exist in a clubhouse and put our team in a position to be good right away. We did start to emphasize experience more as we got deeper into the process.

“As that happened, we talked to Gene Lamont. And as we were doing that, I was doing more research and doing work on Bobby and getting to know him better through other people. At that point we decided to include him in the process formally. And as I said yesterday, there was an interest on our part to sort of shorten the window that he was included as a public candidate because of the position he was in at ESPN and the potential conflict there. I just thought it would be uncomfortable for everyone, including Bobby and certainly ESPN, to have him out there publicly acknowledged as a candidate while he was doing that job.

“So, there was a variety of factors for it. In the end we felt that Bobby and Gene were the best two candidates for the job and worked a lot on it, again over Thanksgiving thought a lot about it, that weekend after Thanksgiving. And ultimately, I can’t remember exactly when it was, but sometime Monday I recommended to ownership that we offer him the job.”

Cherington said that while Sveum was a solid early candidate, in the end he might not have been the right fit for the Sox this year.

“I don’t think so,” Cherington said, explaining: “As we got deeper into it and we actually got into formal interviews and talked about X’s and O’s and talked about what actually would you do in this situation and this situation, what would you do on May 15th when this happened — those sorts of questions, the real questions –  it sort of came to light for me that experience really did matter in this particular situation for this team at this moment. Given where we are, that became more important. So, I do feel like we were going to be sort of headed in that direction. And ultimately that’s why Gene and Bobby ended up being the finalists.”

Read the rest of this entry »

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