The Varitek Signing Aftershock

As an avid fan of amateur baseball, and incidentally the draft, I was displeased, to say the least, to hear about the Sox decision to re-sign Varitek. It wasn’t that I had high hopes that he’d net us two picks, because obviously no team’s general manager was foolish give up their first round pick for a 37 year-old rapidly declining catcher who possesses a noodle for an arm.

It had more to do with the fact that, when comparing Varitek to similar catchers of his caliber and taking today’s economy into effect, this is just bad management on the Sox part. However, this is no longer here nor there, and I think every rational Sox fan agrees with this. 

Not to belabor an already conspicuous thought, but with the games played incentive that was so generously added by Mr. John Henry & Co., and Tito Francona’s persistence on sticking with his veterans, one can safely presume that Varitek will get the vast majority of the at-bats coming from the catching position. So now the question becomes even more interesting, who gets the other fraction of the at-bats?
If the season started tomorrow, the rotation would be as follows: Lester, Beckett, Matsuzaka, Smoltz, and Penny, with Wakefield being the sixth man/spot-starter. However, I highly doubt either of Smoltz or Penny will be healthy opening day, never mind both of them.

So there’s a good chance we’ll see Wakefield filling up the final spot in the rotation to start off, baring an impressive spring by Buchholz and the impending decision on whether or not to start Masterson in the rotation or the bullpen.

Given all of these different scenarios, is there any reason for using a roster spot on someone whose sole purpose is being Wakefield’s caddie when Wakefield himself may not even be in the rotation but every two or three weeks as a spot starter?

The logical answer here would be no. But let’s think about this hypothetically for a minute. Let’s say Smoltz needs all of April to ease back in after shoulder surgery and that Penny comes back ineffective after similar issues. This could leave Wakefield as the fourth starter to begin the season.

Unless you want to see Varitek catch Wakefield every fifth day, then one of George Kottaras or Dusty Brown are going to be needed. Both Kottaras and Brown caught knuckleballer Charlie Zink in Pawtucket last year, and with all reports considered, both of them did an equally adequate job doing so.

However, this is where things get tricky. Kottaras has zero options left (meaning he cannot be sent down unless he clears waivers), whereas Brown has two. Generally speaking, the latter is definitely more renowned for his defensive prowess. He did show a very surprising improvement with the bat last year, posting an .849 OPS. 

The only other reasonable option is Josh Bard, who was signed this off-season and welcomed back after serving a brief stint with the Sox back in 2006. For those who forgot, this is the same Josh Bard that failed horribly in catching Wakefield then.

If the back-up catchers role is going to be to serve as Wakefield’s caddie, I’m not any more comfortable with Bard catching him than I am Varitek. Basically, Josh Bard is a poor-man’s Jason Varitek, if that’s possible. 

To me, having Brown as the backup catcher is a no doubter. He’s flexible in that you can afford to send him down for Kottaras if he’s just not cutting it. He has as much experience as any other option in catching the knuckleball. He’s coming off a solid year with the bat last season.

Most importantly, he should provide at least as much offensive production as Varitek all while possessing a better arm. This would give Varitek more “off-days” to rest his aging knees.