Who’s behind the dish for the Sox in ’09?

There’s been a lot of sexy names thrown around by fans and pundits alike for who will be the Red Sox’s starting backstop in 2009. Names like Miguel Montero, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Russell Martin have at one point or another been a focal point of discussion. Joe Mauer recently joined the list amid news the Red Sox were “salivating” over Mauer once he hits free agency in 2011.

What if the solution has been staring us in the face all along?

What if the answer is Jason Varitek and George Kottaras?

Let’s start with Kottaras… bear with me for a second — I’m not intimating that Kottaras be anointed The Savior™or even the starting backstop for 2009, but the more I think about it, the more I can wrap my head around a Jason Varitek/Kottaras tandem for 2009 and 2010, with Kottaras either stepping in full time in 2010/11 or remaining in a backup role as the Sox acquire a yet to be determined catcher. (Or Luis Exposito, a guy I have my eye on, develops.)

Kottaras, 25, made his major league debut this past year after finally developing that home run power people had spoke of. Only hitting no more than nine home runs per level prior to 2008, he busted out for 22 in Pawtucket and increased his plate disclipline as well despite maintaining a .243 average, similar to 2007’s .241. 

Plate patience had always been a part of Kottaras’ game, but that disappeared once the Red Sox acquired him in 2006 from the San Diego Padres for David Wells. Now having progressed enough where he is a solid all-around catcher, at least to be a backup, he could very well be Tim Wakefield’s caddy in 2009.

Kottaras has extensive experience catching knuckleballers, most notably catching Charlie Zink throughout his travails in a Red Sox uniform.  He’s not very adept at throwing out runners, but that’s not much of a concern when catching a knuckleballer.

Bringing back Jason Varitek on a two-year pact is not the end of the world. He could continue to regress offensively, he could put up similar numbers or improve slightly. We don’t know the answer to that, but we do know how valuable he is as a leader of the pitching staff and as a pitch-caller.

There’s inherent value in that, even if not obvious. I’ve parroted this line before and I’ll parrot it again: there is more to the game than offense, which is the easiest and most quantifiable aspect. It doesn’t mean that a player should be judged solely on offense.

If Kottaras can serve as Wakefield’s personal catcher and give Varitek frequent days off in 2009, I would venture a guess that we’d have a very solid catching situation. In 2010, based on the performance of both players in 2009, the setup could either be the same, see Kottaras increase his playing time or see the Sox go in a different direction (signing Bengie Molina?)… in this situation, the Sox aren’t locked into anything.

Remember, Varitek didn’t entrench himself as a star until he was 29, the year he broke his arm diving for a foul popup which brought cult-hero Doug Mirabelli (Dougie’s Going Deep Tonight!) to Beantown for Justin Duchscherer. He struggled in his age 30 season and then realized his potential from 2003-5.

When you look at his career numbers, you realize that asid from those three golden years, he’s never been an offensive force. And he’s been a starter for 13 seasons.  We don’t need an offensive force at catcher. We need someone who is dedicated to calling the game, someone who improves the pitchers, someone who pitchers inherently trust, someone who gives his all to the game. I see no better solution than Jason Varitek.

Don’t get me wrong, if we can acquire a Montero or Saltalamacchia, that would be great. They’re certainly better bets for the long-term than either Varitek or Kottaras, but if the price is too prohibitive, I fail to see how a Varitek/Kottaras combination would have a negative impact on the ballclub.

Kottaras’ “MLB player comparison” is Gregg Zaun, a longtime backup catcher who got a chance these last few years to log a lot of at-bats for the Toronto Blue Jays. Being compared to Gregg Zaun is not a slight — Zaun is a very good catcher and if he had been in the right spot at the right time, could have over a decade of being a fulltime starter. Having a career similar to Gregg Zaun would be wonderful for both the Sox and Kottaras. (Incidentally, I’m a big supporter of bringing in Gregg Zaun as either the starting catcher, backup catcher or platoon catcher, but that’s for another day.)

The month of January is where all the dominoes are going to start falling for the Red Sox and free agents. If we go into spring training with Varitek and Kottaras as our backstops, I’m happy with that. Some people won’t be, but I fail to see how this situation could be construed as a negative.

Tell us what you think of a Varitek/Kottaras combo in the comments. If trading for a catcher isn’t feasible for 2009, who would be your catchers?

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